08/09/2001 12:00AM

El Corredor takes it one race at a time

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DEL MAR, Calif. - More than eight months after his last start, a victory in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, El Corredor is ready for his 2001 debut, Sunday's $150,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar. El Corredor, the 119-pound starting highweight in the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien, comes into the seven-furlong race with a stellar record of 5 wins in 7 starts.

Even so, El Corredor has yet to impress trainer Bob Baffert this summer.

"He's going to be short," Baffert warned on Thursday. "I could have brought him back in an allowance race, but he'll run so hard I want to have him ready for the big money."

Plagued by quarter cracks earlier this year, El Corredor is having a typical year, one cut short by problems.

He started twice at 2, but made only one start in the first six months of his 3-year-old season, winning an allowance race. Last summer, he returned after a seven-month break and won 3 of 4 starts, including the Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap over a mile against older horses and the Cigar Mile. In between, he finished second to Fusaichi Pegasus in the Grade 2 Jerome Handicap at Belmont Park.

Where Sunday's race will lead is not a topic Baffert wants to discuss. "We're taking it one race at a time," he said. "I worked him on the turf and he worked really well."

The Pat O'Brien is the final graded sprint stakes for males at Del Mar. Ceeband, the upset winner of the Triple Bend Handicap on July 1, and Swept Overboard, who was third in the Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap here on July 22, are other top contenders.

"The horse that will be tough is Swept Overboard," Baffert said.

Captain Steve works

Captain Steve worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds on Thursday and will have a new jockey in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19. Victor Espinoza replaces Gary Stevens, who will ride Until Sundown, the 3-year-old who was second in the Swaps Stakes. Other probables for the Pacific Classic include defending champion Skimming, Futural (who worked five furlongs in 59.20 seconds on Thursday), Out of Mind, and Dixie Dot Com.

It pays to back Paga

Paga, a filly from Argentina, and jockey Mike Smith earned their first stakes win of 2001 in California in Wednesday's restricted $81,175 Osunitas Handicap.

Paga ($7.60) ran 1 1/16 miles on turf in 1:41.06, holding off a late rally from La Ronge. A 4-year-old, Paga was a multiple stakes winner in Argentina last year. Smith, a two-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation's top jockey, won his first stakes since relocating from the East in May.

Trained by Richard Mandella for Ed Allred and R.D. Hubbard, Paga led throughout, tracked by Minor Details, who was ridden by Victor Espinoza.

"She responds to everything you do," Smith said. "She relaxed well. Victor stayed on us and kept us honest."

Paga led by a head on the final turn, fought off Minor Details and Dianehill in early stretch and held off La Ronge to win by a neck.

"I know the margin wasn't a lot but she never got a breather," Smith said. "She fights, too, that's a plus."

La Ronge finished a length in front of Dianehill in the field of eight.

The Osunitas was Mandella's third stakes win of the Del Mar meeting. He said the Atto Mile against males at Woodbine on Sept. 9 is a possibility for Paga.

Bye-bye breeding stock tax

Legislation eliminating the sales tax on breeding stock purchased for use in California was signed by Gov. Gray Davis on Tuesday. The bill is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1, although the Franchise Tax Board, which collects state taxes, may request a one-month extension.

The bill was backed by the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, which argued that passage would boost the buying and selling of racing and breeding stock.

Previously, California breeders paid a sales tax of approximately 8 percent on breeding stock purchased for use in the state, while buyers from out of state were not subject to the tax. The legislation eliminates all but the city and county taxes, leaving California buyers with a tax bill of approximately 2 percent of the total price. Out-of-state buyers do not pay city and county taxes.

Language in the bill does not include sales tax exemptions for yearlings or horses of racing age, but does declare that horses of any age purchased for breeding purposes will not be subject to the tax.

Georgia's Storm done with Del Mar

Georgia's Storm, a two-time stakes winner at Hollywood Park who was fourth in the Sorrento Stakes last weekend, will not start again at Del Mar, trainer Eduardo Inda said.

A 2-year-old California-bred, Georgia's Storm will be pointed for the Fairplex or Oak Tree meetings and will be kept to sprints. One possible goal is the $100,000 California Sires Stakes over seven furlongs on Sept. 27.

Inda said Georgia's Storm did not bleed in the Sorrento, but could not explain why she quit.

"We scoped her and she was clean," Inda said. He said he was disappointed Georgia's Storm did not put up a fight when challenged by Tempera, who won by nine lengths. "She only ran a half-mile," he said. "When the other filly went by, that was it. The other filly may be the best filly on the grounds."

* Irguns Angel, the winner of an allowance race over 6 1/2 furlongs by four lengths on Aug. 1, will be pointed for the restricted $75,000 Torrey Pines Stakes over a mile on Aug. 31, trainer Alfredo Marquez said. Irguns Angel has won 2 of 6 starts. She was second in the Santa Ysabel Stakes last January but was unplaced in the Las Virgenes and Fair Grounds Oaks later in the winter.

* One winning ticket in Wednesday's pick six returned $579,030 to a bettor in New Jersey. Wednesday's pick six began with a carryover of $130,344. Only one favorite won during Wednesday's pick six races - Right Angle ($5.40) in the eighth race. Three of the winners returned 11-1 or more. Wednesday's payoff was the highest for a single ticket in nearly four years, but was well short of the record of $1,039,259 set in 1995.

Go to Del Mar coverage.