08/21/2002 12:00AM

Brubaker could get 'Bayou' back on track


DEL MAR, Calif. - Bayou the Moon flirted with joining the top 3-year-olds last summer before a tendon injury put an end to that campaign. Two races into his 4-year-old season, Bayou the Moon faces an important test in Friday's $75,000 Harry F. Brubaker Handicap at Del Mar, his first start in a stakes since a fifth-place finish in the 2001 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park.

"We're trying to get him back and going," trainer Richard Mandella said. Bayou the Moon finished a game second to Blue Steller in an optional claimer on turf on Aug. 5, a race that proved to Mandella the colt was showing signs of his old form. In his 4-year-old debut over 7 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park July 11, Bayou the Moon finished fourth, never offering a challenge to race winner Hot Market.

"He didn't run at all in the dirt race at Hollywood Park," Mandella said. "He didn't get anything out of it. I'm hoping his last race moved him up."

The Brubaker, run over 1 1/16 miles on turf, could produce a few runners for important stakes later this year. The race is restricted to nonwinners of a first-place purse of $45,000 at a mile or over since March 1 and has drawn eight runners, including Rob's Spirit, Devine Wind, and Night Life.

The Brubaker is the seventh race on an eight-race program that begins at 3:30 p.m.

Rob's Spirit is making his first start for trainer Laura de Seroux. Owned by the Allen Paulson Living Trust, the 5-year-old Rob's Spirit won the Lexington Stakes and Saranac Handicap on the New York circuit in the summer of 2000, but has lost his last six starts.

Devine Wind was sixth in the Wickerr Handicap and is one of four starters from that race starting in Friday's Brubaker; the others are Fateful Dream (third), Lugny (seventh), and Nicobar (10th). The 6-year-old Devine Wind was second in the American Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 4, but was a disappointment in the Wickerr, racing wide and never challenging the winner, Special Ring.

Night Life was a troubled third behind Blue Steller and Bayou the Moon on Aug. 5. A

5-year-old trained by Jenine Sahadi, he closed from fifth to finish three-quarters of a length behind Blue Steller despite a troubled stretch run. That was Night Life's first start of the year. It may turn out to be the ideal prep for Friday's stakes.