08/05/2004 11:00PM

Eighth straight title beyond Baffert's reach


DEL MAR, Calif. - Tied for fifth place in the trainer standings through Thursday, Bob Baffert has abandoned any hope of extending his streak of seven consecutive Del Mar training titles this summer.

Baffert's winning streak began in 1997. This year, he may settle for a top three finish.

So far, Baffert has won four races, trailing Doug O'Neill (10), Jeff Mullins (9), Bill Spawr (6), and Mike Mitchell (5). Baffert is tied with Bobby Frankel and John Sadler.

With much of Baffert's stable geared toward 2-year-old maidens and not on the claiming races that currently dominate programs in Southern California, he does not expect to be in first place when the meeting ends on Sept. 8.

"I'm not going to shoot for the title," he said on Friday morning while watching workouts. "We weren't shooting for the title when we came here. You've got guys like O'Neill and Mullins that have more horses than I do. They're very aggressive. In order to be the leading trainer, you have to claim aggressively or have lots and lots of maidens."

Baffert said his stable has been hindered in the first few weeks of the meeting by a lack of maiden special weight races for 2-year-olds. He expected to have more starters in that category in the first two weeks. The absence of rival trainer D. Wayne Lukas at this meeting in recent years, and the absence of a 2-year-old division from the Maktoum family's Godolphin Racing this year have cost Del Mar some top-class maiden prospects.

But there is no shortage of maiden claimers, which Baffert says are not the sort of horses his clients campaign.

"I see the quality of racing deteriorating in California," he said. "Saratoga has a lot of horses to draw from. They've blown by us. I didn't run anything on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and I don't know when that's happened."

Of course, much of his opinion is self-serving. He has stocked his stable with 2-year-old maidens, hoping to find a few starters that are worthy of the Del Mar Futurity and Debutante at this meeting, and later, the Breeders' Cup.

"In California, they want numbers," he said. "They should have a lot more maiden races at the beginning of the meeting so we can run in stakes."

Sunday, Baffert has one starter, Excessively Nice, in the second race, a maiden special weight run over 6 1/2 furlongs for 2-year-old California-bred fillies. Excessively Nice has shown quick workouts since arriving at Del Mar.

"She's a nice filly," he said. "I'm not in a hurry at this meeting. I'll bring them along at their own pace. My main deal is to get them ready for the Breeders' Cup."

So far, Baffert's top 2-year-olds have been Actxecutive, Inspiring, My Miss Storm Cat, and Roman Ruler. Actxecutive and Roman Ruler are males that are being pointed for the $150,000 Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 15. My Miss Storm Cat finished third in the Grade 3 Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 5 but is not in serious training. Inspiring was a top contender for Saturday's Sorrento Stakes.

Baffert had considered sending Actxecutive to the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 21, but wants to keep the colt in California.

The stable has more than 2-year-olds. Sabiango, who won the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood in June, may start in the Arlington Million next Saturday. The stable has two outstanding 3-year-old fillies - Western Hemisphere and Yearly Report. During, who finished third in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap last weekend, will return in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 22.

Western Hemisphere gave the Baffert stable its only stakes win of the meeting in the Fleet Treat Stakes for statebreds on July 24. The win equaled Baffert's number of stakes wins at this meeting last year. By comparison, Baffert won 10 stakes at the 1998 and 1999 meetings and 13 in 2000.

"Last year, I was leading trainer and I had a lousy meeting. I only won one stakes," Baffert said. "I think we'll pick up at the end."

Despite the frustrations, Baffert said he has no intention to relocate his stable to Saratoga. He doesn't want to leave the beach.

"No matter how well or how bad you're doing, you're still in Del Mar," he said.

Night Patrol targets Pacific Classic

Night Patrol, who finished fifth in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap on Aug. 1, is being pointed for the Pacific Classic, trainer Marcelo Polanco said Friday.

Owned by Jeff Nielsen, Night Patrol finished 7 3/4 lengths behind Choctaw Nation in the San Diego.

Polanco is hoping that Tyler Baze, who was aboard in the San Diego, will ride Night Patrol in the Pacific Classic, which is run over 1 1/4 miles. Night Patrol was fourth in the 2003 Charles Whittingham Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf. "I don't think the distance will be a problem," Polanco said.

The San Diego was Night Patrol's third start of the year. At Hollywood Park earlier this summer, he was third of five in the Grade 2 American Handicap on turf.

The Pacific Classic has seven candidates - Choctaw Nation, During, Even the Score, Olmodavor, Pleasantly Perfect, and Total Impact.

Polanco said that Island Fashion, the 4-year-old filly who finished second in the Santa Anita Handicap against males in early March, is nearing a return to serious training. She was given a month off following a 16th-place finish in the Group 1 Yasuda Kinen against males over a mile on turf in Tokyo on June 6.

Polanco has the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30 as a goal for Island Fashion.

Golden Shine will miss Best Pal

The Best Pal Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs will not include Golden Shine, a promising colt who won his second start by four lengths at Hollywood on July 3.

Trainer David Hofmans said Golden Shine is being rested for the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in the fall because of sore shins. Because of the layoff, Golden Shine is not considered a candidate for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.