08/26/2003 11:00PM

Debutante dreams alive

Caroline Norris
Balestrini, shown winning the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown in April, has relocated to trainer Neil Drysdale's California stable.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Solar Fire and Wind Flow were third and fourth in the Sorrento Stakes on Aug. 9, a major prep for Saturday's $250,000 Del Mar Debutante.

Typically, such efforts in the Sorrento would make those fillies top contenders for the Debutante, the meeting's championship for 2-year-old fillies.

But not this year.

Impressive maiden wins by Victory U.S.A. and Halfbridled in the first two weeks of the meeting relegate Solar Fire and Wind Flow to outsiders for the Grade 1 Debutante, which is run over seven furlongs.

That hasn't stopped Caesar Dominguez, the trainer of Wind Flow, from thinking his filly has a big shot in the Debutante.

"Victory U.S.A.? All she's done is break her maiden," Dominguez said. "They're all nonwinners of two, in a way. Why not take a chance? She's just as good as anybody right now."

Owned by Pete and Barbara Walski, Wind Flow made her stakes debut in the Sorrento, her first start since winning a two-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita in April.

"She will be a lot fitter than last time," Dominguez said. "She's come back super, super good."

Trainer Jenine Sahadi is talking in a more tempered manner about Solar Fire, who is owned by Chaiken Family Trust and Green Lantern Stable. Solar Fire made her third start in the Sorrento, following a third in her debut and a narrow victory over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf at Hollywood Park in July.

In the Sorrento, Solar Fire was 28-1. After a poor start, she rallied from seventh to finish third, 8 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Tizdubai - who is being pointed for the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 28. Dirty Diana, the runner-up in the Sorrento, is a probable for Generous Portion Stakes for California-breds on Sept. 3.

Without those two running in the Debutante, Victory U.S.A. will be favored on the strength of her maiden win by 6 1/2 lengths on Aug. 3. Halfbridled won a maiden race by 4 1/2 lengths on July 27.

"I don't know where she fits with Victory U.S.A., but she's sound and it's a Grade 1," Sahadi said of Solar Fire. "I thought she ran great last time. She got clobbered coming out of the gate and that might have cost her something."

Even if Victory U.S.A. and Halfbridled run as well in the seven-furlong Debutante as they did in their maiden races and prove too tough for the others, there is still plenty of prestige at stake on Saturday.

"If you run second or third, her value goes up $100,000 to $200,000," Dominguez said of Wind Flow. "It's worth taking a gamble."

Desormeaux to ride mainly in Japan

Kent Desormeaux said Wednesday that he plans to ride at Del Mar for only four days in the final two weeks of the meeting, and will ride in Japan for much of the next month.

The announcement came a day after Desormeaux switched agents. On Tuesday, he replaced Tom Knust with Brad Pegram.

Desormeaux said he will ride at Del Mar on Mondays and Wednesdays for the next two weeks - Sept. 1, 3, 8 and 10. Although he was in the stables on Wednesday morning, he took off his three mounts for the day.

Desormeaux said he has one month remaining on a three-month license in Japan, which allows him to ride in that country through Sept. 27.

"They'll kick me out on Sept. 27 and I can't go back until 2004," he said. "I'll be back for Oak Tree and getting ready for Breeders' Cup."

With the exception of a trip to Woodbine on Sept. 14 to ride Touch of the Blues in the Atto Mile, Desormeaux will spend his weekends in Japan in the next month. He said riding in Japan is too lucrative to pass. "It's Breeders' Cup weekend every weekend in Japan," he said. "I've got to make hay when the sun shines. I'm like Jerry Bailey in Japan."

A two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, Desormeaux rode in Japan during the spring and early summer, returning in mid-July prior to the start of the Del Mar meeting.

Why change in agents?

Desormeaux declined to comment on whether his absence in the spring made it more difficult to get business during the first half of the Del Mar meet.

"Sometimes you have to make changes," he said, referring to changing agents.

Other horsemen and jockey's agents weighed in on the subject. Some trainers said privately on Wednesday that Knust had been placed in a difficult position at the start of the meeting.

One of Desormeaux's former agents, Tony Matos, was more vocal.

"I won two Kentucky Derbies for him, and should have won the Triple Crown with Real Quiet, and I still couldn't keep him happy," Matos said. "I feel sorry for Tom Knust. He's a very competent agent. He never misses one morning out here. It's a low thing to do.

"When Kent was in Japan, Knust was out here every morning, keeping in touch with everybody," Matos added. "Kent needs to look in the mirror and stop blaming everyone else."

Drysdale's two new Euros skipping derby

Trainer Neil Drysdale has added two European 3-year-olds to his stable - Balestrini and Desert Swing - but neither is likely to start in the $300,000 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 6, he said.

Balestrini, formerly trained by Aidan O'Brien, won the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown in Ireland in April, beating eventual Irish Derby winner Alamshar. Balestrini later finished fifth in the Epsom Derby.

Desert Swing, previously trained by Pascal Bary, was stakes placed in France earlier this year.

The Del Mar Derby is run over 1 1/8 miles on turf. The candidates include Bis Repetitas, Californian, Devious Boy, Fairly Ransom, Senor Swinger, Singletary, and Sweet Return.

* Senor Swinger worked a half-mile in 48.20 seconds on Wednesday. Jose Valdivia Jr. will ride Senor Swinger in the Del Mar Derby, trainer Bob Baffert said.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman