10/19/2003 11:00PM

Claimers square off to break 10-win tie

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On Wednesday, veteran claimers Diplomatical and Call Me Mr. Vain will meet in an unusual match race at Suffolk Downs. The winner of the race will become the winningest horse in North America so far this year.

Both horses have managed to pile up 10 victories in 2003 and have at least a two-race edge on their nearest rivals - seven horses have won eight races so far this year.

Diplomatical and Call Me Mr. Vain have traveled through several different barns this year. Diplomatical has been claimed five times in 2003, with the latest returning him to the barn of Luis Arzola. Call Me Mr. Vain was claimed after his 10th win by trainer Mario Destefano.

Diplomatical drew the rail in the six-furlong match race and will be ridden by Peter Sosa Jr. A 6-year-old gelding, Diplomatical has made 17 starts this year, and he has a career record of 36-18-4-1 with earnings of $163,925.

Diplomatical started his career in statebred races in New York in 2000, then missed the entire 2001 campaign. Upon arrival in New England he was able to hold his own in allowance company and won a two-other-than in February. After two more allowance tries, he was dropped into the claiming ranks and has spent most of the year running for tags ranging from $4,000 to $6,250. He enters the match race with three wins in his last four starts.

Call Me Mr. Vain, a 9-year-old, has more back class, with a graded-stakes placing in the 1999 Iselin Handicap at Monmouth behind Frisk Me Now. Call Me Mr. Vain had campaigned in Florida and Maryland before a private sale to trainer Carlos Figueroa in the fall of 2002 brought him to Suffolk. He will be making his 18th start of the year on Wednesday and will be ridden by Angel Stanley.

Call Me Mr. Vain has made 95 career starts and has compiled a record of 22-9-2 and earnings of $368,635. He has spent most of this year competing at the $4,000 level but finished second for $10,000 in his last start.

As the match race has approached, there has been a little trash talking between the trainers of the two horses, but both are now taking the high road.

"I don't want to reveal my methods, but my horse has been trained up to the minute for this race," said Destefano. "I'm very confident, because my horse is feeling good, he's training good, and he's acting good. If Diplomatical beats me, I'll take my hat off to Mr. Arzola."

As with most match races, strategy and pace will be crucial. Call Me Mr. Vain has been stronger at longer distances, but his last race was a runner-up try at five furlongs. It is a positive sign for Destefano, since Diplomatical is the more natural sprinter.

The race will be the sixth on the nine-race card and will offer win and perfecta wagering.

* Leading apprentice Mark Phillips, 17, will return to his native Ireland at the conclusion of the Suffolk meet on Monday and has signed a three-year contract to work for Dermot Weld with the hope of working his way into top-level riding in Europe. He has won 105 races, putting him in the top five for the year at Suffolk.