08/29/2002 11:00PM

Beware of fresh face Mister Kybelee

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Mister Kybelee, the newest face in the California turf marathon division, may be arriving on the scene at the perfect time.

Throughout the year, the circuit's top turf stakes at 1 1/4 miles or farther have lacked a standout. No horse in that category has won more than one Grade 1 or Grade 2.

The parity is a leading reason why 13 horses were entered for Sunday's Grade 2, $250,000 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf. And several of them are capable of winning.

Continental Red, the winner of the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap at Santa Anita in March, is the 118-pound highweight, but spots each of the others in the field only one to four pounds.

Because of a safety limit of 10 horses on Del Mar's narrow turf course, three horses are on the also-eligible list - Hataab, Caveolin, and Homeland.

Continental Red may be favored, but not a strong choice. A 6-year-old gelding, Continental Red was second in the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 21, and has been preparing for this race for the last seven weeks. There are two other graded stakes winners in the field - The Tin Man, a front-running winner of the Grade 2 American Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on July 4, and Kim Loves Bucky, who won the Grade 3 Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland in April.

Add trainer Bobby Frankel's two well-regarded starters, Blue Steller and Dance Dreamer, both of whom won their last starts, and the French import Mister Kybelee, and handicappers face a puzzle.

Mister Kybelee was third in the Group 3 La Coupe Stakes at Longchamp in June, his stakes debut. He followed with a second in the minor Grand Prix de Compiegne on July 3 before arriving at Julio Canani's barn on July 26.

"He's unbelievable, but I don't know how fit he is," Canani said. "He missed one work because he had a bruised foot and I walked him for four days."

Canani has had great success with French imports in recent years - among them Breeders' Cup Mile winners Silic (1999) and Val Royal (2001) - and has been impressed with the competition that Mister Kybelee faced in France.

In an allowance race in early June, Mister Kybelee finished third behind Polish Summer, who later won a Group 2. Cheshire, the fourth-place finisher that day, later won a stakes and finished seventh in the Arlington Million.

"He's been running with some tough horses," Canani said.

And arriving here at the right time.

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