09/06/2002 11:00PM

Expression a little guy with big talent

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Sidelined by illness earlier this year, Expression can make up for lost time with a victory in Monday's $100,000 I'm Smokin Stakes for 2-year-olds at Del Mar.

Expression won a maiden race at Hollywood Park on May 8, but suffered a bout with colic that forced him to the sidelines in late spring. When he returned in the Graduation Stakes on July 31, he finished third, 6 1/2 lengths behind Icecoldbeeratreds.

"He could have been second, but the winner was too good," trainer Jean Pierre Dupuis said.

The loss did not discourage Dupuis, who said Expression has trained well in recent weeks.

"He's a little guy and he doesn't need too much training," he said. "He's a typical In Excess, he's very keen. I expect him to be on the board."

Expression drew post 5 and faces nine others in the I'm Smokin, which is restricted to nonwinners of a first-place purse of $35,000 other than closed or claiming. The condition essentially eliminates stakes winners and gives recent maiden winners and horses beaten in stakes a chance at a lucrative purse.

Expression's competition includes Jury Box and Martinblestme, who were second and fourth, respectively, in the Graduation Stakes, and the recent maiden winners Noble Silence and Siberland.

Bob Baffert, who is expected to have five starters in Wednesday's $250,000 Del Mar Futurity, trains Martinblestme. After the Graduation Stakes, Martinblestme returned to win a starter allowance race by seven lengths on Aug. 28.

"It's a little quick back for him and I don't want to run at Pomona," Baffert said.

Noble Silence and Siberland finished one-two in a maiden race for California-breds over 5 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 21. After the race, trainer Doug O'Neill said Noble Silence would not reappear until the I'm Smokin.

Siberland returned to win a six-furlong maiden race for California-breds by 6 1/2 lengths on Aug. 18, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 102. Through Thursday, it tied for the second-highest Beyer Figure of the year by a 2-year-old.

Trained by Kevin Lewis, Siberland led throughout in his maiden win, which was his third start.

Two starters - Excessive Barb and Unfurl the Flag - are making their first start following claims.

Excessive Barb was claimed by trainer Craig Lewis for $62,500 on Aug. 14, the day he won a maiden race in his debut.

Unfurl the Flag was claimed by David Bernstein following a win against California-bred $40,000 maiden claimers on Aug. 2.