08/18/2007 12:00AM

Baze picks Drill Down over 'Sarge'

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DEL MAR, Calif. - A jockey knows he has arrived at the top of the sport when he has to chose between mounts for major stakes. Such dilemmas are becoming more commonplace for Michael Baze, the leading rider at the Del Mar meeting.

Baze chose Sun Boat over Big Booster for the $1 million Pacific Classic and has picked the maiden winner Drill Down over the two-time graded stakes winner Salute the Sarge for the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 5, closing day of the meeting.

Baze and his agent, Nick Cosato, told the respective trainers of Drill Down and Salute the Sarge of their plans on Friday. As a result, Salute the Sarge, the winner of the Hollywood Juvenile in July and the Best Pal Stakes here on Aug. 12, will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux, according to trainer Eric Guillot.

Baze, 20, said that he and Cosato considered many factors before reaching their decision to ride Drill Down, who has one victory in two starts, a maiden race here on July 28, for trainer Mike Machowsky.

"We thought Machowsky's horse had a rough trip first time out and he really has been working tremendous," Baze said. "He seems like he has a lot of talent.

"Salute the Sarge ran really well. He only does what he has to do. I think he has talent."

Machowsky said that Drill Down has been "really straightforward" since his maiden win.

Guillot said he was comfortable in hiring Desormeaux, the second-leading rider at the current Saratoga meeting through Wednesday.

Guillot described Salute the Sarge "as full of himself" since the Best Pal. He said the colt will have two workouts before the Del Mar Futurity.

Trainer Richard Mandella said he plans to start the maiden winners Dixie Chatter and Kanan Dume in the Del Mar Futurity. Slam Slew, who was scratched from the Best Pal Stakes because of illness, has not sufficiently recovered and will miss the Futurity, Mandella said.

River's Prayer may await Breeders' Cup

River's Prayer stretched her 2007 unbeaten streak to five in Friday's $200,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap, and that win came with a little strategic help from jockey Clinton Potts.

After racing near the front from the start of the race over 6 1/2 furlongs, Potts guided River's Prayer wide through the stretch, drifting to the outside and holding off a pesky challenge from Strong Faith to win by a half-length.

"I was doing my job," Potts said of the stretch run. "I finished in the middle of the track and it wasn't a coincidence."

River's Prayer ($6.20) was timed in 1:17.85, the fastest clocking on the Polytrack surface this year. The race was her first start since winning the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder last month, and may be her last start until the $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint over six furlongs at Monmouth Park on Oct. 26.

"The point of running her in this race was to keep her happy," trainer Paula Capestro said.

Owned by a partnership, River's Prayer stalked pacesetter Lady Gamer on the backstretch before taking the lead on the final turn.

"She's come around to where you can get her to sit off of it," Potts said. "It's so hard to win on the front end here. You've got to leave something in reserve."

River's Prayer has won 9 of 16 starts and $901,958. All five of her wins this year have come in stakes.

Lady Gamer held third, finishing 5o1/4 lengths behind River's Prayer. Pussycat Doll, the 8-5 favorite, never threatened the leaders and finished fourth in the field of five.

ast and West options for Shamdinan

Shamdinan, the winner of the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park in his U.S. debut on Aug. 11, has arrived at trainer Doug O'Neill's stable at Del Mar and will make his next start in early September.

O'Neill and owner Paul Boghossian are considering the $400,000 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 3 or the $500,000 Man o' War Stakes over 1 3/8 miles on turf at Belmont Park on Sept. 8, O'Neill said.

Shamdinan earned an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Turf over 1 1/2 miles at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27 with his win in the Secretariat.

"They paid almost a million dollars for him, so you have to think big things," O'Neill said. "He's a very laid-back horse."

Headley finally gets synthetic win

Trainer Bruce Headley scored his first win on a synthetic track in Friday's eighth race when the maiden claimer Catch That Thief ($6.20) rallied from off the pace.

It was Headley's first winner of the meeting with his 16th starter and his 44th starter on a synthetic track since Hollywood Park installed a Cushion Track surface last fall.

Headley is typically one of the more high-percentage trainers on the Southern California circuit, but has struggled in recent months.