07/18/2004 11:00PM

Canani tries for both legs of Oceanside

Del Mar opens its 43-day season on Wednesday. The meet will continue through Sept. 8.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Trainer Julio Canani makes no promises Wednesday about his three runners for opening day of the 2004 summer racing meet at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. "I don't have a strong, strong barn," he said.

It is not a lie. But remove one word from the description and Canani merely has a "strong barn."

It will be evident immediately. Canani entered a can't-miss maiden in race 2, a promising European import in the stronger division of the Oceanside Stakes (race 8), and a live longshot in the weaker division (race 6). Yet the only prediction Canani makes is that opening day "is going to be a madhouse." No kidding.

An enthusiastic crowd of more than 40,000 is expected as Del Mar kicks off its 43-day season, which runs through Sept. 8. There is no better way to spend a summer day than wagering on horses in a casual seaside atmosphere.

"There's nothing like opening day at Del Mar," Canani said. "People come here that have never been to a racetrack. People come from all over the country."

So do many horses, including French imports War Academy and Blackdoun. Based on his super second-place finish in his U.S. debut, War Academy is favored to win the first division of the Oceanside. Canani's Blackdoun is among the favorites in the second division of the mile turf race for 3-year-olds.

War Academy's trainer, Laura de Seroux, is also aiming Hollywood Gold Cup winner Total Impact toward the Grade 1 Pacific Classic on Aug. 22.

In the Pacific Classic, Total Impact will face Pleasantly Perfect, a strapping veteran who has been training super for his first start since winning the Dubai World Cup. While the $1 million Pacific Classic is the richest race of the meet, the 1 1/4-mile dirt race stands apart from the focus of the Del Mar program.

"It's a grass-oriented schedule, a proven formula, and it's worked well," said Tom Robbins, vice president of racing.

The Grade 1 turf-race fireworks start on the first weekend, with the Eddie Read Handicap on Sunday and the John C. Mabee Handicap for fillies and mares on Saturday. Special Ring, trained by Canani, aims for a repeat in the Read; the Bobby Frankel-trained Megahertz bids for a repeat in the Mabee.

Three other Grade 1's are scheduled, for a total of six at the meet. Beau's Town will try to win the six-furlong Bing Crosby for the second straight year Sunday. Ask for the Moon, another de Seroux-trained import, is pointing toward the Del Mar Oaks for 3-year-old turf fillies on Aug. 21, when she faces Ticker Tape, winner of the American Oaks for trainer Jim Cassidy. Inspiring will try to give Bob Baffert his sixth win in the Del Mar Debutante for 2-year-old fillies on Aug. 28. The Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity for 2-year-olds is run closing day.

The lucrative stakes include $6.3 million in purses; total purses for the meet will exceed $22 million. There is sufficient incentive that the racing office will have little trouble filling the 19 graded stakes, but the six-day racing week (Wednesday through Monday) places extreme pressure on the rest of the horse population. The usual race week at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita is five days.

"It's a little tougher down here with six-day weeks," said Robbins. "The extra day takes about 70 horses out of your program; you could use those horses in other races. You rely on [class levels] where your volume of horses is the greatest."

About 2,200 horses will be stabled at Del Mar and 1,000 at Hollywood Park. San Luis Rey Downs and Fairplex Park will provide ship-ins. Santa Anita is closed for training.

The quality of the opening-day card might be overlooked by seasonal fans, but year-round handicappers cannot help but notice that for the first time on opening day at Del Mar, a $25,000 maiden claimer was split (races 2 and 9) in order to fill the nine-race card. And, the traditional opening-day maiden race for 2-year-olds was written this year for California-breds rather than open company.

Trained by Canani, Kinship is favored to race gate to wire in race 2. Things are tougher in both divisions of the Oceanside, which kicks off the 3-year-old turf series, which includes the La Jolla Handicap and Del Mar Derby.

War Academy broke last in his U.S. debut June 17, and made up more than 10 lengths despite racing on a heavily watered course that he did not care for.

"He's a big, gorgeous, eye-catching horse and definitely will get better with age," de Seroux said.

War Academy's main rival is Semi Lost, whose trainer, Jeff Mullins, led the standings at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. Canani starts longshot Drake's Victory, who lost a front shoe while finishing third in a Cal-bred allowance race last out.

The second division of the Oceanside came up considerably stronger. It includes Canani-trained Blackdoun, who chased multiple Group 1 winner American Post in his last two starts in France; Neil Drysdale-trained Terroplane, who will appreciate a return to firm going; and graded-stakes-placed Lucky Pulpit.