08/23/2011 2:06PM

Del Mar: Price part of Zucker's hot streak

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DEL MAR, Calif. – What had been a slow year for trainer Howard Zucker suddenly has turned white-hot at Del Mar, where his small stable has started winning anew. The horse who began the turnaround is Price, who set the tone by winning the very first race of the season on opening day July 20, and who comes back seeking another win in the opening race on Thursday’s card.

Zucker always has done well at Del Mar, and so too has Price. Last summer, Price ran once here, beating a starter-allowance field. He lost his next three races, but upon returning to Del Mar this summer, headed right back to the winner’s circle by defeating a first-level allowance field.

“It was fun winning that first race on opening day,” Zucker said at his Del Mar barn. “With the crowd and everything, it felt like winning the Kentucky Derby, only without the money.”

Price steps up to a second-level allowance on Thursday. He is in the richest race of the day, worth $70,000 with the sizeable purses here this summer, but since only five are entered, it is carded as early as possible.

“I’m just glad the race finally went,” Zucker said. “We were entering for days. The purses are so high, you want to win one here.”

Price, 5, has made just six starts since beginning his career in Demember 2009. His last race was his first two-turn race on the main track.

“We’ve had to be patient with him. He’s had his problems, obviously,” Zucker said. “He’s tries hard. He’s a pro. And he loves the track, which is a big thing here.”

The main rival to Price could be Massone, who returned from an eight-month layoff and just missed in a similar spot on July 29. He was unlucky to lose after getting caught in traffic with a furlong to go.

“That was very frustrating,” said Tim Yakteen, the third trainer Massone has had in the past year. “It’s the way my meet has gone. But he came out of the race in great shape. It’s a long year, and we’re just getting started.”

Massone has been stuck at this second allowance level for quite some time, while flirting in stakes races on several occasions. He owns just 2 wins from 26 starts, with 7 seconds and 8 thirds, so he often settles for minor awards.

Do It All, Hyades, and Summer Movie all are coming off disappointing efforts and are seeking to rebound in this spot.