07/16/2002 11:00PM

Early birds enjoy the clime


DEL MAR, Calif. - The horses and people are starting to trickle in to Del Mar in anticipation of next Wednesday's opening day, and their attitude, like the weather here, is sunny and mild.

"I'm just glad to be here," trainer Mike Machowsky called out from horseback while accompanying a set of runners Wednesday morning. Machowsky was one of the first to arrive, and he took advantage of a track that had very little traffic on Wednesday morning. In contrast to the tumult expected on opening day, the stable area was quiet and relatively empty on Wednesday, though that will gradually change as opening day nears.

The stable area opened on Saturday, and the track was first open for training on Monday. So far, the surface has received good reviews, though it is admittedly early. Still, the track was proceeding as if it were mid-meet. Despite the light traffic, there still were three renovation breaks during the morning, at 6, 7:30, and 8:45. The track opens for training at 4:30.

"It's good right now. There's not many horses on it," said trainer Jerry Dutton, who is spending his 40th season at Del Mar. "I like coming down here. I don't worry about the horses so much as myself. This time of year, it's pretty nice. I just wish they started two weeks earlier, and ended two weeks earlier. I don't like it much after Labor Day."

This year's meet lasts until Sept. 11.

Machowsky, who is based at Santa Anita most of the year, said the cooler temperatures at the coast benefited his runners. It has been brutally hot inland at Santa Anita.

"They've already come to life here," Machowsky said. "At Santa Anita, I had to back off and go easier to keep them full of life. I wish the stable area here was open all year. The weather is so nice."

Machowsky was merely galloping his horses on Wednesday. He said he would probably not work any of them until the weekend. But over at trainer Wesley Ward's barn, assistant Blake Heap had eight runners work on Wednesday morning.

"The track looks pretty healthy. It's live. You don't hear them hit the ground," Heap said. "It looks pretty safe. I'm keeping my fingers crossed."