09/05/2003 11:00PM

Capitano may pass Del Mar Futurity

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The $250,000 Del Mar Futurity on Wednesday may have only five starters after trainer Ray Bell on Saturday said he was leaning toward starting Capitano in the $150,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity at Arlington Park on Sept. 27

Bell said he was happy with Capitano's five-furlong workout in 1:02.80 on Saturday at Santa Anita, but is more interested in the Arlington-Washington Futurity distance of one mile rather than the seven-furlong distance of the Del Mar Futurity.

"If I had to lean one way, that's what I'll probably do," he said.

Bell considers Capitano to be a contender for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Oak Tree at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. He would prefer to start the colt only once before that race, making the timing of the Arlington race more appealing.

"I think two races may be asking too much," he said.

Owned by Vicken Meguerditchian, Capitano has one victory in two starts. He pulled off the most shocking win of the Hollywood Park meeting when he won his maiden race at 109-1 on July 5. In his stakes debut in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 17, Capitano finished second to Perfect Moon, leading in midstretch before losing by 1 1/2 lengths.

Bell said Capitano would be entered for the Del Mar Futurity, with a decision to be made closer to race time.

"I'll sit on the fence and play it by ear," Bell said. "I'm not locked in. We'll see how many runners there are."

Saturday's workout was not designed for speed, Bell said.

"He's pretty dead fit and didn't need a lot," he said.

Perfect Moon heads Del Mar Futurity

The Del Mar Futurity field is led by Perfect Moon, the winner of two stakes this summer - the Best Pal Stakes and the Hollywood Juvenile Championship. The field will include four recent maiden winners - Cooperation, Gulf of Mexico, Minister Eric, and Siphonizer.

Gulf of Mexico will be well-backed, having won by 4 1/2 lengths in his debut on Aug. 18.

Trainer Bob Baffert starts Cooperation in an effort to win the race for a record eighth consecutive time.

Pioneerman may be entered, but is more likely to start in Monday's $100,000 I'm Smokin Stakes for statebreds. Trained by A.C. Avila, Pioneerman has not started since winning a maiden race for statebreds at Hollywood Park on May 7.

Small fields are not uncommon for the Del Mar Futurity. The race had only five runners in 1999 and 2001.

Excess Summer relished the breather

Excess Summer survived a speed duel to score his second consecutive stakes win in Friday's $92,825 El Cajon Stakes, leaving trainer Jeff Mullins with several options.

A nine-length winner of the Real Good Deal Stakes over seven furlongs on Aug. 11, Excess Summer battled with Elan for a half-mile and held off a challenge from Fly to the Wire to win the one-mile El Cajon Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths.

During the race, winning rider Julie Krone feared that Excess Summer was doing too much early.

"I was thinking, I screwed this up," Krone said. "Around the turn he took a couple of deep breaths, relaxed for 70 yards, and he took off. He got enough air to turn for home and quicken."

Owned by a partnership, Excess Summer has won 4 of 7 starts and $174,521. He was claimed by his current connections when he won a maiden race for $40,000 claimers at Santa Anita last April.

Mullins was impressed with the win, but did not have any plans other than to say that Excess Summer is nominated to the California Cup Classic. A return to sprints is possible.

"They left him alone on the turn and he likes to take a breather," Mullins said.

On Saturday, he was more concerned that Excess Summer had come out of the race in good shape.

"When they run that hard on this track you walk down the shed row with your fingers crossed," Mullins said.

Stevens returns aboard Fly to the Wire

The El Cajon marked the riding return of Gary Stevens, who was aboard Fly to the Wire.

Stevens had not ridden since suffering a collapsed lung in a spill at the wire in the Arlington Million on Aug. 16.

"My air is good, my lungs are good, and my body is good," he said while walking back to the jockeys' room. Stevens is booked to ride two horses on Monday.

Medaglia d'Oro's brother Expresso Bay wins

Expresso Bay did something this summer that his half-brother Medaglia d'Oro failed to do - win at Del Mar.

On Friday, Expresso Bay won his second consecutive turf race for $50,000 claimers, and was bought by owner Bruce Hochman and trainer Ted H. West in a five-way shake.

West was not aware that Expresso Bay was related to Medaglia d'Oro, a six-time stakes winner who finished second to Candy Ride in the Pacific Classic on Aug. 24. West was impressed with the way the 6-year-old Expresso Bay fought off all challengers on Friday to win his fourth straight race.

"He's a gorgeous horse," West said. "I love it when a horse fights back when he's passed."

Expresso Bay made his final start on Friday for Lake Forest Stable and trainer Jack Carava. They claimed Expresso Bay for $25,000 at Hollywood Park in June 2002 but had to turn him out because of a leg injury. Since returning in April, Expresso Bay has won 4 of 7 starts and $113,020. Overall, he has won $239,290.

"He's just a lovely horse that tries hard," Carava said.

Steiner has first winner of comeback

Jockey Joe Steiner on Friday rode his first winner since the winter, on Global Hawk ($29) in the fifth race, for maiden claimers.

Steiner missed five months of riding after suffering facial and foot injuries in a spill at Santa Anita on Feb. 26. Steiner underwent surgery to have a plate and six screws inserted into a bone below his right eye. He later had a pin inserted into a heel to accelerate healing.

Steiner is booked to ride Majestic Rose in a sprint for female claimers in Monday's fifth race.