04/04/2004 11:00PM

Big day for Castledale's trainer


ARCADIA, Calif. - Jeff Mullins had already saddled two winners on Saturday before Castledale pulled an upset at 30-1 in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

Earlier in the day, Mud Light and Beau Soleil won overnight races for Mullins.

But unlike Castledale, who won by only a head over Rock Hard Ten, there was no suspense in the wins by Mud Light and Beau Soleil, who were both ridden by Victor Espinoza

In the first race, Mud Light won his career debut against statebred maidens over 6 1/2 furlongs by 12 lengths without urging. In the fifth race, Beau Soleil won an optional claimer over a mile by eight lengths.

Both are candidates for the California Gold Rush program at Hollywood Park on April 24. Mud Light could start in a $70,000 allowance race over seven furlongs, while Beau Soleil has been nominated for the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes over 7 1/2 furlongs on the main track and the $150,000 Khaled Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Beau Soleil ($3.80) was a standout, but the win by Mud Light ($4.60) surprised Mullins, who admits he does not have a stellar record with first-time starters.

"It's terrible," he said.

Mud Light, however, turned in a brilliant performance, though the final time of 1:18.10 was not that quick.

Owned by Scott Guenther's Desperado Stable, Mud Light was in front throughout and was geared down in the stretch.

"I didn't expect him to win like that, but he didn't have any challengers," Mullins said.

Rush Country, another first-time starter, finished second.

The career of Mud Light, 3, was delayed by a breathing problem that led Guenther to send him to Ohio State University last summer to undergo a myectomy, an operation that aids breathing.

It was a gamble to send an unraced maiden across the country for an expensive surgery, but Mullins said that Mud Light needed the break.

"He was getting sore shins and the breathing was getting worse," Mullins said.

Following the surgery, Mud Light was sent to Kentucky to recover. He returned to Mullins in November.

"You cross your fingers on those things," Guenther said of the surgery. "He's always shown he was a nice horse. I was anxious to get him to the races."

Meanwhile, Beau Soleil won for the fourth time in 10 starts. Beau Soleil and Espinoza tracked pacesetter Mambo Dancer to the middle of the backstretch, and took the lead with a wide rally.

In his previous start on March 6, Beau Soleil led in a similar field under Mike Smith, but was caught in the final furlong by Touch the Wire.

"He had a funky trip last time," Mullins said on Sunday. "He drew the rail and I told Mike that if he breaks, don't fight him. Yesterday, we had a better outside post, and I told Victor to take a hold and save something for the end."

Understandably, the focus of Saturday's card was the Santa Anita Derby, and the ramifications for the Kentucky Derby. But as the early races on Saturday showed, Mullins will be active in lucrative stakes before May 1.

Silent Sighs prepares for Oaks with fast work

Silent Sighs, the winner of the Santa Anita Oaks on March 13, worked five furlongs in 1:00 on Sunday, the third-fastest of 33 recorded works at the distance. She is a top candidate for the Kentucky Oaks on April 30. In the final Kentucky Oaks Future Bet, which closed on Sunday, Silent Sighs was 12-1.

Trained by Julio Canani for Marty and Pam Wygod, Silent Sighs has not started since the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, her third consecutive stakes win and first outside of restricted company.

Silent Sighs worked alone on Sunday under jockey David Flores. Canani timed her galloping out six furlongs in 1:14.

"She was just breezing," Flores said.

Canani has spoken glowingly about Silent Sighs in recent weeks, saying that she has matured.

"I've been excited about this filly from the beginning," Canani said. "I didn't know she'd be this good. I knew when I popped her out of the gate at Del Mar. She went in 47."

Silent Sighs has won 4 of 5 starts and $442,700.

"Every race she runs, she gets better and better," Canani said.

Silent Sighs's only loss was a second to Kentucky Oaks hopeful House of Fortune in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies last November.

Flores gets suspension

Flores received a five-day suspension for causing the interference in the stretch of the Santa Anita Derby that led to the disqualification of Rock Hard Ten from second to third. Imperialism was promoted to second; he was forced to check in the final sixteenth.

The stewards cited Flores for failure to make the proper effort to maintain a straight course through the stretch.

The suspension begins Friday and covers racing days through April 15.

Southern Image might run at Pimlico next

Southern Image, who has won two $1 million races this year in the Sunshine Millions Classic and Santa Anita Handicap, is being considered for the Pimlico Special on May 14, trainer Mike Machowsky said over the weekend.

Southern Image has been in light training in the month since his win in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 6. He worked a half-mile in 48.80 seconds on Monday, his first workout since the Big Cap win.

"I tack-walked a couple of weeks, jogged a week, and galloped a week," Machowsky said. "If he's doing as well as he is now and the weather is good, I'll look at Pimlico."

Following the Big Cap win, Machowsky had said that Southern Image may not start again until the Metropolitan Mile Handicap at Belmont Park on May 31. But over the weekend, Machowsky said the timing of the Pimlico Special may be better if he wants to consider the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in June and the Hollywood Gold Cup in July.

"The Met is a good race for a stallion, but if I run there, I'm stuck for six or seven weeks," he said. "If I go to Pimlico, I can go to the Stephen Foster and the Hollywood Gold Cup.

"I want to avoid off tracks. Mother Nature may make the decision for us."

Dimitrova's 4-year-old debut coming up

Dimitrova, the winner of two major stakes for fillies and mares on turf last year, is on schedule for her 4-year-old debut in the $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on turf on April 17.

Trained by Neil Drysdale, Dimitrova worked seven furlongs in 1:31.20 on Sunday. Last year, Dimitrova won the American Oaks at Hollywood Park and the Flower Bowl Handicap at Belmont Park. She was 12th in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf here last October.

Derby Day business

Attendance and handle figures from Saturday's Santa Anita Derby program were mixed.

The ontrack attendance was 36,155, a gain of 6 percent over last year. The all-sources handle was $21,975,321, a drop of 12 percent over last year.

The ontrack handle was $5,599,755, a drop of 17 percent and an indication that the gain in attendance may have been triggered by customers more interested in the post-race Ziggy Marley concert than Castledale's win.