08/18/2001 12:00AM

Ecstatic in learning spot

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DEL MAR, Calif. - There was a good reason that trainer Bob Baffert scratched Ecstatic from the Grade 3 Best Pal Stakes last Wednesday at Del Mar instead of letting him start against stablemate Officer.

"We don't want to discourage the poor guy," Baffert said. "There's no use doing that to him. He's a nice horse."

In hindsight, it was a good call. Officer won the Best Pal by seven lengths and is considered the top 2-year-old in California, and possibly the nation. Ecstatic has more to learn and can start with a win in a $53,000 allowance race over 5 1/2 furlongs on Monday.

"I didn't want to run two in there," Baffert said. "We put Ecstatic in there for insurance in case something happened at the last minute to Officer."

Ecstatic is the likely favorite in a field of five, the seventh of eight races on Monday's card. Owned by Ahmed Salman's Thoroughbred Corp., Ecstatic won his debut by two lengths at 10-1 in a five-furlong maiden race July 18.

"I didn't think he'd win his first out," Baffert said. "I was surprised. I worked him with Officer. We broke him off like six lengths in front of Officer and Officer galloped by. He was in one of his gallop modes."

Ecstatic has the least experience of the five entrants. Only one has started in a stakes: Sharper Too was fourth in the Graduation Stakes on July 25, finishing 12 lengths behind Officer.

Yougottawanna and Funny Meeting won maiden races for California-breds earlier at the meeting, and Holdthehelm won a maiden race over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf on the final day of the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting.

Baffert trains Funny Meeting for John and Betty Mabee's Golden Eagle Farm. A maiden winner by 4 1/2 lengths at six furlongs Aug. 8, Funny Meeting is being pointed for the $100,000 I'm Smokin Stakes for California-breds on Sept. 3.

"I wanted to give him one more run before the I'm Smokin," Baffert said. "Instead of working him I figured I'll get paid for it. Mr. Mabee would rather run."

Ecstatic may try to lead throughout. In his debut, he challenged for the lead to early stretch before he pulled away.

Baffert feels Monday's race is part of the colt's development, which may lead to a surface switch.

"I don't know how good he is," Baffert said. "I think the way he's bred, he may be sort who does well on turf down the road."