11/19/2001 1:00AM

Brazilian import scores for Wolfson


JAMAICA, N.Y. - The season drawing to a close was not particularly distinguished for grass horses in this country, as underlined by the results of the Breeders' Cup Turf. But the final weeks of the campaign may have produced a horse with the potential to make a name for himself in top turf company. If Mr. Pleasentfar continues to develop along the lines envisioned by trainer Marty Wolfson, it will be remembered that his significant step forward took place here at Aqueduct in the Red Smith Handicap.

The Brazilian-bred Mr. Pleasentfar faced a representative field in the $150,000 Red Smith, the last of the season's important turf features in New York, and it can't be said that he frightened many away from Saturday's race.

Though he came here from a victory at Calder over the same 1 3/8-mile distance as the Red Smith, he was essentially dismissed at 9-1 while the money poured in steadily for Eltawaasul, winner of the Manila Handicap at The Meadowlands, and Williams News, winner of over $900,000.

Eltawaasul set a tepid pace, the first half-mile in 50.31 seconds. He should have had a lot more left, and he did. In fact he drew clear nearing the furlong pole but couldn't withstand the powerful finish of Mr. Pleasentfar, well ridden by Jose Santos. That finish is the winner's signature, trainer Wolfson commented later.

"This horse has shown steady improvement from race to race," Wolfson said. "The first three times he ran at Calder the races were too short for him, and we knew it. But he was benefiting from the seasoning. When he finally got his distance in the Flying Pidgeon, he won. I expected improvement in the Red Smith and there is still room for improvement when he runs next, which will probably be the W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder on Dec. 29.

"Mr. Pleasentfar was a late foal and is still basically a 3-year-old. He's good right now but not as good, we feel, as he will be. He also has an edge on many turf horses because he can handle dirt tracks and off tracks if bad weather poses a problem and the race is switched from grass to dirt."

Wolfson also pointed out that despite the slow early pace in the Red Smith, Mr. Pleasentfar was able to uncork the acceleration that carried him to victory. Most stretch-runners, he said, require a fast pace in front. The trainer thinks he has a good one in the Brazilian.

Vessels scored in two worlds

Racing lost a staunch advocate over the weekend with the death in Miami of Billy Vessels, who was 70.

A great running back at the University of Oklahoma, Vessels won the Heisman Trophy. He played professional football briefly, then joined the real estate development firm of the Mackle Brothers, who were active in south Florida. When a daughter of one of the Mackle brothers was kidnapped, Vessels was chosen to take the ransom money to the drop site. The girl was found unharmed later in an underground crypt and the kidnapper was caught.

The Mackles raced horses, and Vessels met many racing personalities. He attended the races frequently, was a keen student, and was subsequently appointed to head the pari-mutuel division of Florida's Board of Business Regulation. He was an outstanding commissioner and, hailed by colleagues throughout the country, was elected president of Racing Commissioners International.

Vessels had more than a knowledge of racing. He had a passion for it and wanted it conducted to the highest standards. He had many friends on the turf and they mourn his passing.