07/30/2001 11:00PM

Collect Call tuning up for Alabama

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Trainer Christopher Paasch intended this summer to race his top 3-year-old filly, Collect Call, on the turf at Del Mar in races such as the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. But he was not satisfied with the way Collect Call handled the local turf in a workout here last week, so he decided to keep Collect Call on the main track.

Paasch's options, however, were limited. Del Mar's stakes program for 3-year-old fillies is focused on the turf. So Paasch decided to point Collect Call for Saratoga's Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, where she could have a rematch with Flute, who captured the Kentucky Oaks, in which Collect Call was third.

Collect Call needed a prep race for the Aug. 18 Alabama, and found one at Del Mar. She surfaces in Thursday's featured seventh race, a second-level allowance in which Collect Call should be favored while facing older horses for the first time. Six others are entered in the one-mile dirt race, including both Favorite Funtime and Svea Dahl from the barn of leading trainer Bob Baffert.

Collect Call, who starts from the outside with regular rider Alex Solis, has been among the nation's best 3-year-old fillies this year. After capturing the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita in January, she was second in the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.

In her lone start since then, Collect Call finished second to Affluent in the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks on July 14.

"I was very satisfied with her race in the Hollywood Oaks, because we lost so much time with her after the Kentucky Oaks," Paasch said Tuesday morning. "Her feet got really sore. That track was pretty bad," he said, referring to the lightning-fast surface at Churchill Downs the weekend of the Oaks and Kentucky Derby. "Her feet were stinging."

Collect Call's progress was further delayed in mid-June, when she strained an ankle after a work on the Hollywood Park turf.

Thursday's race was critical for Paasch. "If we couldn't have gotten a prep, we'd have had to skip the Alabama," he said.

Favorite Funtime finished third in a similar spot in her last start at Hollywood Park on July 6. Svea Dahl is stretching out around two turns after tuning up with a third-place finish in a highly rated allowance sprint at Hollywood on June 27. Both Cee's Elegance and Classical Charm beat first-level allowance horses in their last starts at Hollywood Park.

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