08/10/2003 11:00PM

Cutback to sprint ideal for 'Azteco'

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - A wide-open six-furlong sprint feature for 3-year-olds launches the second week of the Bay Meadows Fair on Wednesday.

Azteco De Oro, who drew the rail, appears the one to beat in the $40,000 optional claimer, which drew six entrants.

Cases could also be made for Banker Boy, Tab Cat M.D., and Operatic. Truckee River and Demon Warlock, both returning from a layoff, also make the race intriguing.

Azteco De Oro bucked his shins in his 2-year-old debut in June 2002 and was off more than 10 months. In his return race in April, he pressed the pace early before fading badly.

Dropped in for a tag for the first time a month later, he scored a wire-to-wire victory. He repeated that win, going wire to wire again in a $40,000 starter allowance race at Pleasanton.

"He just grew up mentally and physically. He's a little more mature," trainer Doug Utley said.

Utley stretched out Azteco De Oro to a mile at the Solano Fair. He responded nicely, setting sensible fractions before being overtaken by Grandpa Chan. He held on for second over Operatic, the odds-on favorite that day.

Although Azteco De Oro can run the opening half in 44 and change, the fact he relaxed nicely on the lead in 47.60 at Solano encourages Utley.

"He'll go either way, but he has a ton of speed if you want to use it," Utley said. "I'd rather be in the 5 hole than the 1. From there, you're about committed to go early."

Utley has enjoyed success dropping horses back into sprints from routes. He has a $2.31 flat-bet profit with the move.

"When they drop back, they seem to run well," he said. "They may have a little more stamina."

Azteco De Oro has worked twice since the Solano race. Although they were basically maintenance drills, Utley was extremely pleased with Friday's five-furlong work in 1:00.80. "He blew out awful well," he said.

Azteco De Oro will have to be at the top of his game. Truckee River, running for the first time since he was claimed last Oct. 4, has three wins and a loss by a nose in his four starts.

Demon Warlock put together three straight sprint victories after losing his debut. He will make his first start since a troubled trip in the Golden State Mile on Feb. 9.

Tab Cat M.D. has a win and two seconds in his three starts, and Operatic has not finished off the board in his three starts. Banker Boy has two solid races since being claimed from a win at Hollywood Park.

- The Mid-Peninsula Stakes for 2-year-old Cal-bred fillies has been rescheduled for Saturday after failing to fill last Sunday.