08/15/2001 11:00PM

De Seroux moving on up


DEL MAR, Calif. - Since the spring, Until Sundown, the 3-year-old who starts in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar, has taken trainer Laura de Seroux's career to new heights.

It was in May that Until Sundown gave de Seroux, 49, her first stakes win in the minor Alydar Stakes at Hollywood Park. In June, he won the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap. Last month, Until Sundown was de Seroux's first starter in a Grade 1, when he finished second to Congaree in the $500,000 Swaps Stakes.

Those achievements would pale in comparison to an upset win by Until Sundown in the Pacific Classic against established older horses including Captain Steve, Dixie Dot Com, Futural, and Skimming. "It's a scary step for me to take," de Seroux said. "I think he's good enough."

Until Sundown will attempt to become the third 3-year-old to win the Pacific Classic. Best Pal scored a popular win in the inaugural running in 1991 and General Challenge prevailed in 1999. Both were experienced 3-year-olds who had started in the Kentucky Derby.

Last year, the 3-year-old Tiznow developed rapidly during the Hollywood Park meeting and finished second to Skimming in the Pacific Classic, losing by two lengths.

"We're on the Tiznow pattern," de Seroux said.

Until Sundown is the star of de Seroux's stable, which was formed in the summer of 1999. Owned by Sidney Port and San Gabriel Investments, Until Sundown has won 3 of 6 starts and $246,600. He has never tried the Pacific Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles and has never won beyond 1 1/16 miles. But his training since the Swaps, in which he finished four lengths behind Congaree, has left de Seroux optimistic that he can run well in the summer's top race for older horses in California.

A trip to Saratoga for the Travers next week was never seriously considered with a valuable race being run so close to home.

"It makes sense to stay home and try for this," she said. "It wouldn't have made sense to go to the turf and try the Del Mar Derby."

In the Swaps, Until Sundown was second to the front-running Congaree throughout and made no impression in the final furlong. De Seroux said she has spent plenty of time thinking about that race.

"I wouldn't have changed anything, because what if Congaree and Until Sundown had gone out there too much?" she said. "Congaree would have taken the fight and it would have set up for Jamaican Rum because he was closing.

"Our plan was to race in a normal style. The overall development of the horse is the most important thing to me.

"He is developing as we hoped. He was a tall lanky horse and he's filled in and really more mature. He's learned a lot from his races. I think he's bigger, from adding muscle on. He's definitely coming into the race the best we've seen and I'm not just trying to pump myself up."

De Seroux has spent much of her adult life around good horses. She exercised horses in the 1970's for Charlie Whittingham and later worked with her husband, Emmanuel, at his successful bloodstock agency, Narvick International. In the 1980's, the couple lived in France for part of each year, scouting horses.

When they moved to northern San Diego County in the 1990's, de Seroux launched plans for a public stable.

"For about 10 years, I had four or five show jumpers that were retired racehorses," she said. "Eventually, I got that out of my system. We moved down here and that was it. The light came on and I said, 'Let's set up at San Luis Rey Downs.' "

De Seroux's background has earned the respect of horsemen such as jockey Chris McCarron, who rides for her occasionally.

"She comes from the right school," McCarron said, referring to her time with Whittingham. "Her results are the evidence of her capitalizing on the opportunities she's been given."

By opening a stable at San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall, which is 30 minutes from Del Mar, de Seroux deliberately avoided the commotion of training on the backstretch, where as many horses as possible are accommodated. Her barn includes 50 horses of all ages.

"I wanted to be at a training center," she said. "The main advantage is I can turn the horses out. If you do it consistently, they don't get all worked up."

Her stable includes several promising horses. The barn includes the 3-year-old Checkpoint Charlie, a half-brother to Cigar who won a maiden race on turf at Hollywood Park; Agol Lack, who was fourth in the 2000 Jockey Club Gold Cup; and Total Impact, a stakes winner from Chile, who is expected to start early next year.

"This is the culmination of developing a clientele," she said, referring to Emmanuel's contacts throughout the sport. "I'll move along the claimers - sell them to others - because we want continue at the top level."

A win on Sunday would push de Seroux even closer to that goal - and provide yet another milestone.

Go to Del Mar coverage.