08/01/2003 12:00AM

Candy Ride remains sharp


DEL MAR, Calif. - The two best handicap horses in California are not starting in Sunday's $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, a traditional prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 24.

Congaree, the winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup last month and three other stakes earlier this year, worked six furlongs Thursday and is under consideration for the Pacific Classic.

If he does run, Candy Ride, an unbeaten star from South America, will be waiting.

On Friday, Candy Ride worked seven furlongs in 1:23.60, by far the fastest time of seven recorded works at the distance. Trainer Ron McAnally timed the 4-year-old galloping out a mile in 1:37.

"There were two horses about 15 lengths in front, and he wanted to get them," McAnally said.

McAnally, a Hall of Famer, was raving about Candy Ride before the colt's California debut, and he hasn't changed his opinion.

Owned by Sid and Jenny Craig, Candy Ride has won five races, including two starts in California. Candy Ride won an allowance race in early June and returned to win the Grade 2 American Handicap on turf on July 4. The form of that race was flattered last weekend when Special Ring, a game second in the American Handicap, returned to win the Eddie Read Handicap by five lengths, breaking a 17-year-old course record for 1 1/8 miles on turf.

After the American, McAnally and the Craigs announced they would pass the San Diego in favor of the Pacific Classic.

"If he wasn't a good work horse, I couldn't do it," McAnally said.

In coming weeks, Candy Ride will have two more stout workouts designed as mini-races, McAnally said.

"We've got a couple of tough works coming up," McAnally said. "The next two are the most important works."

Aside from Congaree and Candy Ride, the top contenders for the Pacific Classic are Kudos, the third-place finisher in the Hollywood Gold Cup, and Milwaukee Brew, the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap last March who is training with Bobby Frankel at Saratoga.

More candidates are expected to emerge from the San Diego Handicap.

At least four foes for Azeri

Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, is likely to face at least four opponents when she tries for her 11th consecutive win in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap on Aug. 10.

As of Friday, Azeri's competition was expected to include Angel Gift, Got Koko, Sister Girl Blues, and Tropical Blossom. None of those fillies and mares won stakes in their last starts.

Sister Girl Blues and Tropical Blossom faced Azeri at Hollywood Park. Tropical Blossom finished third behind Azeri in the Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap on May 24 but only fourth in the Vanity Handicap on June 21. Sister Girl Blues finished second in the Vanity, losing by two lengths.

Got Koko swept the three-race La Canada series for 4-year-olds earlier this year, but finished fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap on March 9. Angel Gift is coming off a fifth in the Grade 3 Royal Heroine Stakes on turf at Hollywood Park on July 5.

Palomar next target for Dublino

Dublino, a two-time graded stakes winner who has been second in three consecutive major stakes this year, will not start in the $700,000 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 17, trainer Laura de Seroux said.

Instead, Dublino will be pointed for the $150,000 Palomar Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 7, a prep for the $500,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 28.

Dublino, 4, won the Wilshire Handicap in her 2003 debut in April and followed with seconds in the Gamely, Beverly Hills, and John Mabee handicaps. In the Mabee on July 26, she finished in a three-way dead heat with Tates Creek and Golden Apples behind Megahertz.

"She's danced every dance this year since she came back," de Seroux said.

Crazy Ensign ends long losing streak

The Palomar will also include Crazy Ensign, who broke a 10-race losing streak with a victory in a $70,000 allowance race on Thursday.

Trained by Richard Mandella, Crazy Ensign rallied from last in a field of seven to win by two lengths over Little Treasure. Crazy Ensign ($14.40) was ridden by Alex Solis and finished a mile on turf in 1:34.11.

During the losing streak, Crazy Ensign started only in stakes and finished second or third five times. The allowance race was her first start since a neck loss in the Miss America Stakes at Bay Meadows in early April.

"She's run against tough horses, so I gave her time to freshen up," Mandella said. "She's always been a pretty good mare. She just had some tough races."

Don'tsellmeshort proves a bargain

The $75,000 that owner Cecil Peacock paid for Don'tsellmeshort at the Barretts May Sale of 2-year-olds in-training is starting to look like a steal.

Peacock earned back his purchase price when Don'tsellmeshort pulled an upset in Wednesday's $125,000 Graduation Stakes for California-breds.

"It was like being able to claim a horse and being able to vet him out," trainer Dan Hendricks said of the sale.

Previously, Don'tsellmeshort had won a maiden race and finished fourth in the Haggin Stakes at Hollywood Park, but the colt ran the best race of his career in the Graduation.

Ridden by superb gate jockey Patrick Valenzuela, Don'tsellmeshort led throughout the 5 1/2 furlongs to win by three lengths.

"I didn't think he'd outbreak and outrun those horses that easily," Hendricks said.

Don'tsellmeshort ($19.20) was timed in 1:04.31 for 5 1/2 furlongs. Stalking Tiger, the winner of the Haggin Stakes, hit the gate at the start and rallied three wide to reach contention in early stretch. The 3-5 favorite, Stalking Tiger, could not make up the difference but finished two lengths in front of Military Mandate in the field of eight.

"I hate to make excuses. Maybe at 5 1/2 furlongs you can," said Paul Aguirre, the trainer of Stalking Tiger. "I think he'll be a little better going longer."

Don'tsellmeshort and Stalking Tiger may meet for the third time in the $100,000 I'm Smokin Stakes at six furlongs for statebreds on Sept. 8.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is aiming higher with Military Mandate. He is planning a start in the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity over seven furlongs on Sept. 10, the 2-year-old championship of the meeting.

* Halfbridled, the winner of a maiden race in her career debut last Sunday, is being pointed for the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante on Aug. 30, Mandella said. Mandella is electing to pass the $150,000 Sorrento Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 9.

* Nicole and Ben, the winner of a maiden race for 2-year-old California-bred fillies on July 26, will run in the $100,000 Generous Portion Stakes at six furlongs on Sept. 3, trainer John Sadler said. Nicole and Ben scored by 6 1/2 lengths last weekend, finishing 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.92.