07/29/2003 12:00AM

'Dan' primed for San Diego

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Danthebluegrassman is breathing easier. After faltering badly in four straight races last year, he had surgery performed to treat a paralyzed flap. He was given more than seven months off, but since returning, he has finally started to run like the colt trainer Bob Baffert thought worthy of entering at the last minute in the 2002 Kentucky Derby.

Danthebluegrassman won a pair of allowance races at Churchill Downs last month. He has now come to Del Mar, where on Sunday he will run in the Grade 2, $250,000 San Diego Handicap, Del Mar's prep for next month's $1 million Pacific Classic.

Tuesday morning at Del Mar, Danthebluegrassman tuned up for the San Diego by working five furlongs in 1:00.40.

"He's doing pretty good," Baffert said. "We did that throat surgery on him, and then were lucky enough to get two allowance races into him at Churchill Downs. He's always had talent. The breathing was the problem.

"He used to breath like his namesake," Baffert said, referring to Dan Chandler, a friend of both Baffert and Mike Pegram, who owns Danthebluegrassman. "That tie-back surgery is a 50-50 deal. It worked on him."

Danthebluegrassman won the Golden Gate Derby and finished second in the El Camino Real Derby last year, but his six subsequent races at age 3 included five races in which he stopped badly. He has kept right on motoring this year.

Publication, who finished second to Joey Franco in Hollywood Park's Triple Bend Handicap on July 5, also prepped for the San Diego Tuesday morning. He worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds.

In addition to Danthebluegrassman (Mike Smith riding) and Publication (Kent Desormeaux), the field for the 1 1/16-mile San Diego is expected to include Bayou the Moon (Alex Solis), Gondolieri, Joey Franco (Patrick Valenzuela), Reba's Gold (David Flores), Western Pride (Jose Valdivia Jr.), and possibly Kela and Taste of Paradise.

Western Pride, fifth in the Hollywood Gold Cup in his last start, would be the starting highweight, at 118 pounds. Azeri was assigned top weight of 120 pounds, but she is expected to pass the race and await the Clement Hirsch Handicap one week later.

The other major stakes race this weekend is Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 San Clemente Handicap at one mile on turf for 3-year-old fillies. The Baffert-trained Atlantic Ocean was assigned top weight of 120 pounds, two more than Buffythecenterfold and Welcome Millenium. Those three are all expected to start, along with European import Bukat Timah, Katdogawn, and Valentine Dancer.

Harper remembers Hope

The death of entertainer Bob Hope sparked memories for Joe Harper, Del Mar's president, who - being the grandson of Cecil B. deMille - grew up in the movie industry and frequently played host to Hope on his visits to the track during the 1990's.

Hope had a long connection with Del Mar, which was co-founded by Bing Crosby.

"Hope once told me that he and Bing were clowning around after the races, and that that was the genesis for their road pictures," Harper said. "I remember meeting him at Paramount when I was a kid. And then in the 1990's, he'd come to the track with his wife, Dolores. By then, he couldn't see well, and he couldn't hear well, but he loved being here."

Exercise rider injured

Roberto Flores, an exercise rider who picked up an infrequent mount in races at tracks like Fairplex and Pleasanton, is at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla after being injured when the filly Newport Nikki rolled over on him while being schooled at the gate over the weekend.

Lisa Ohmstede, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said Flores was in "fair" condition, but said Flores had not authorized the hospital to release any more information to the public. Flores was in a regular room, not intensive care.

Blake Heap, the assistant trainer for Wesley Ward, who trains Newport Nikki, said it was his understanding Flores needed surgery. "The filly lost her hind feet and just rolled over on him," said Heap, who witnessed the incident. "He only weighs 80 pounds, that guy."

Newport Nikki had been scratched from a race the previous afternoon after acting up at the gate.

Gary Brinson, Del Mar's starter, was at the gate at the time of the incident. "I think he might have blacked out," Brinson said of Flores. "His eyes were in the back of his head. I think he hurt his ribs and his spleen."

* Maria's Mirage set a course record of 55.06 seconds for five furlongs on turf when she won Monday's seventh race, an optional claimer. There were 12 claims in for Maria's Mirage for her $62,500 asking price. Trainer Bill Spawr won the shake.

* The Yankees played in Boston on Sunday, and were in Anaheim on Tuesday, so it was 2-5 where manager Joe Torre and coach Don Zimmer would spend their off day Monday. They came to Del Mar, and were in the winner's circle following the seventh race.

* Significant Tuesday workouts included Ruler's Court, the beaten favorite in the Hollywood Juvenile, who went four furlongs in 48.80 seconds, and the 3-year-old stakes performer Outta Here, who sped five furlongs in 58.40, the third-best time of 46 at the distance.