02/21/2002 12:00AM

Basil's Rhythm a handful of promise

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EAST BOSTON, Mass. - Calling Saturday's Waquoit Stakes the first local step on the road to the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap is a bit far-reaching, but don't tell that to the connections of Basil's Rhythm, who has been entered in the Waquoit.

Art Maniatis, who managed the career of sprinter Purple Passion en route to New England championship titles in 1997 and 1998, is playing a similar role with Basil's Rhythm, who is owned by his wife, Judy, and two other partners. Despite disappointments in Basil's Rhythm's three races this year, Maniatis already has Mass Cap Day, June 1, circled on the calendar.

"I've known since the first day he stepped on the track and dumped his exercise rider that he had the talent," said Maniatis, who manages the horse's campaign along with trainer John Rigatteri. "That first day he reared up. But then he ran off almost professionally and came right back around and let us grab him. He was just getting used to things in his own way, and since then he's never given us a problem."

He has, however, given his assorted jockeys problems in the afternoon. He bolted twice early in his career and has had to endure objections and inquiries because of his green performances. His bad habits haven't come close to dampening Maniatis's enthusiasm.

"It just means he's a late developer," said Maniatis. "I've got about six races where I just throw out the race. Last time out he was sick, and it showed when he flattened out. He's been in trouble, but he's also won while getting into trouble. He's starting to develop now, and I just know he's going to really start to show it."

Basil's Rhythm will have a chance to show his talent in the $30,000 Waquoit Stakes against a two-time graded stakes winner Coyote Lakes. Trained by Bruce Levine, Coyote Lakes won the Gallant Fox Handicap for the second straight time in December at Aqueduct. A onetime $8,000 claimer, Coyote Lakes blossomed into a star at marathon distances, and his affinity for races at nine or more furlongs is part of the reason the locals are willing to take him on in this race at 1 1/16 miles.

The Yasou Stable of Charlie and John Assimakopolous nominated three horses to the Waquoit, but entered Cool Sweep after consecutive allowance victories. He figures to be part of the pace, along with recent front-running winner First Shot, as well as Starship Seminole, who is coming off a claiming sprint victory.

Makeyourselfathome was second in the Waquoit last year before going on an 11-month vacation. He made a strong comeback two weeks ago with a second-place allowance run for trainer Peter Bazeos.

Hutchinson to retire

Bob Hutchinson, chairman of the Massachusetts State Racing Commission, will step down next month to take early retirement.

Appointed by Gov. William Weld in 1993, Hutchinson's nine tumultuous years heading the state's racing board were marked by the growth of simulcasting, competition from casinos in neighboring states, track closings and openings, and enhanced drug-testing.

During his tenure, Hutchinson helped craft two important pieces of legislation, including the industry-assistance bill signed in November that will allow account wagering later this year.

An interim chairperson is expected to be named to join associate commissioners Arthur Khoury and Christ Decas until acting Gov. Jane Swift names a permanent replacement.