07/19/2005 11:00PM

Cassidy leads off with star

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Powerful Sister, Pat Valenzuela up, comes on to the track for the first race of opening day.

DEL MAR, Calif. - For trainer Jim Cassidy, the opening day of Del Mar does not come until Saturday, when Ticker Tape, his prized turf mare, starts in the $400,000 John Mabee Handicap.

Ticker Tape is the first starter of the meeting for Cassidy's 24-horse stable, a group that has strength among its female turf runners.

Cassidy also trains Singhalese, 3, who is being pointed to the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 20. Singhalese finished fourth in the Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap and third in the American Oaks at Hollywood Park.

And Cassidy has been buying. Tuesday, he acquired the stakes-placed Romantic Notion from Ireland. A 2-year-old, Romantic Notion will arrive in early August and could make her U.S. debut at the end of the meeting.

Then, there are the unraced 2-year-olds Maxxi Arte, Soporus, and a Desert Prince colt that have shown promise.

But Ticker Tape is the star of the barn. The winner of the 2004 American Oaks and Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, Ticker Tape was a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation's top turf female.

After having six months off over the winter and being acquired by Forging Oaks Farm, Ticker Tape is winless in two starts this year, but was a game second in the Royal Heroine Stakes at Hollywood Park on June 3.

Cassidy said he considered the race a prep to the Mabee, which is run over 1 1/8 miles on turf for fillies and mares.

"She's rounding into form," he said. "Six months was a long time off."

Ticker Tape will need to be at her best. The Mabee is the first of six Grade 1 stakes at Del Mar and has drawn a strong field.

Intercontinental, the winner of the Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland and the Royal Heroine Stakes last month, is expected to be trainer Bobby Frankel's lone starter. Other probable starters are Amorama, Halo Ola, Island Fashion, and Winendyneme.

For Ticker Tape, the race is vital for her chances of building a championship-worthy resume this year. If Ticker Tape runs well, she will be pointed to the $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 13.

Carbon dioxide positive

A Southern California trainer has been notified that one of his starters at Hollywood Park has tested positive for an excessive carbon dioxide level, but the trainer's name was not disclosed.

Dr. Rick Arthur, a veterinarian who has served as a spokesman for the consortium of racetrack and racing officials that have managed the testing process, said a meeting was conducted with the trainer Tuesday and that another meeting is expected before the end of the month.

"They've asked for a continuance with good cause," Arthur said. "The attorney brought up some issues we need to address and investigate before we make a final decision. After we meet again, we'll have a public statement."

The consortium must decide whether to require all the trainer's starters to be sent to a security barn for a 24-hour period in advance of their starts for a period of 30 days. Earlier this year, four trainers who had horses test positive were saddled with the restriction during the Santa Anita meeting. They remain the only four positives in Southern California since prerace testing for excessive carbon dioxide levels began in December.

Arthur said 5,000 tests have been conducted since the last positive occurred in February.

Heavy company in optional claimer

Hasty Kris, the winner of the Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita in February, and allowance winners St Averil and Spellbinder are the leading contenders in a $70,000 optional claimer over seven furlongs Friday.

For some entrants, the race is a prep to the $300,000 Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap over seven furlongs Aug. 21.

Spellbinder may go favored. Trained by Richard Mandella, Spellbinder won an optional claimer over 7 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 3, disputing the pace throughout.

St Averil will be well backed in the field of six. Trained by Rafael Becerra, St Averil won an optional claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs in May and returned to finish third in the Ack Ack Handicap over 7 1/2 furlongs on June 11.

Even though St Averil has won over 1 1/16 miles - in the Santa Catalina Stakes in January 2004 - Becerra said he thinks St Averil may be more effective around one turn.

"Maybe he's just a sprinter," Becerra said. "At least we know at this distance, he'll be tough."

Hasty Kris and Smoocher, who was fourth in the Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap at Golden Gate Fields last month, are entered for claiming prices of $125,000. It is doubtful that anyone will claim Hasty Kris, an 8-year-old gelding. Trained by John Sadler, Hasty Kris is winless in three starts since the San Carlos, all stakes losses. He was fifth in the Ack Ack Handicap.

The field also includes Robledo, who is making his first start since winning the Turf Paradise Derby in February 2003.

Willman new publicity head at Santa Anita

Mike Willman, the host of a weekend radio show and a commentator on intertrack television, has been named director of publicity at Santa Anita.

Willman is currently working as an intertrack commentator at Del Mar and has been the broadcast coordinator for the last 12 years at Hollywood Park, hosting that track's evening replay show.

Willman, 48, has been involved in racing for more than 20 years, holding positions as a racing official, and jockey's agent. He is the owner-breeder of McCann's Mojave, the winner of the Ack Ack Handicap at Hollywood Park in June.

Willman replaces Vince Bruun, who left Santa Anita in May.

* Always First, the winner of the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap last Sunday at Hollywood Park, is being pointed for the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf on Aug. 18, trainer Neil Drysdale said.