08/13/2001 12:00AM

El Corredor takes O'Brien off layoff


DEL MAR, Calif. - El Corredor was not as short in Sunday's $150,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar as trainer Bob Baffert warned earlier in the week.

Making his first start since winning the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct last November, El Corredor won like a fit racehorse in the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien, scoring by 1 1/2 lengths before an ontrack crowd of 18,772.

"I wasn't sure he was ready, but I thought he was doing well and would run well," Baffert said in the winner's circle.

The win may lead to a start in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont Park on Oct. 27, Baffert said.

Ridden by Victor Espinoza, El Corredor ($5) ran seven furlongs in 1:20.42, finishing clear of Swept Overboard. Ceeband finished third in the field of seven.

Espinoza had El Corredor close to the pace throughout, tracking Blade Prospector through fractions of 22.69 and 44.71 seconds. Conscious of Baffert's concern about El Corredor's fitness, Espinoza tried to give the 4-year-old a breather on the backstretch.

"I didn't want to do too much at the beginning," Espinoza said. "I wanted to him do what he wanted to do."

On the final turn, El Corredor took the lead while making a wide rally and was ridden to the line to hold off Swept Overboard.

"I waited as long as I could," Espinoza said. "When I turned for home, I had to let him go. I had lots of horse turning for home and he just kept going."

The Pat O'Brien was El Corredor's third stakes win for owner Hal Earnhardt.

Plagued by quarter cracks that kept him off the track earlier this year, El Corredor has won 6 of 8 starts and $577,920.