08/08/2004 11:00PM

Far cry from last year for Baffert

Inspiring wins the Sorrento by 2 1/2 lengths on Saturday. She now appears the likely favorite for the Del Mar Debutante on Aug. 28.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Bob Baffert took control of California's 2-year-old division at Del Mar over the weekend, winning with two fillies and a colt expected to play a major role in upcoming stakes.

Saturday, Baffert won the Grade 3 Sorrento Stakes for fillies with Inspiring and a maiden special weight race with the promising colt Fusaichi Rock Star. Sunday, the filly Excessively Nice scored a sharp maiden win in her debut over 6 1/2 furlongs.

The success is a turnaround from the 2003 Del Mar meeting, when Baffert's only stakes win came with Dirty Diana in the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.

"I'm already ahead of last year's meeting," he said Monday morning. "We came in her loaded, and I have a lot more."

The star of the weekend was Inspiring who won the Sorrento Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths over the previously unbeaten Souvenir Gift. The victory makes Inspiring the favorite to win the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante over seven furlongs on Aug. 28, a race Baffert has won five times in the last nine years.

In the Sorrento, Inspiring fought for the lead with Souvenir Gift on the backstretch, took a clear advantage in early stretch, and pulled clear, finishing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18.29.

"It looked like she really handled the track well," Baffert said. "The track was very slow that day. The track was very taxing for her to run in 1:18. She should be running in 1:16."

Owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, Inspiring has started twice. She won a five-furlong maiden race at Hollywood Park on July 5.

The Sorrento result marked the first defeat for Souvenir Gift, who had won the Cinderella Stakes and Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park earlier this year.

"This is a nice filly that we beat, but we've got a good one, and I hope it keeps going that way," Baffert said. "I think we'll hook up with her later down the road."

Excessively Nice deserves a chance in the Debutante, a race Baffert is considering. Owned by Patti and Hal Earnhardt, Excessively Nice showed remarkable poise in Sunday's second race. Ridden by David Flores, Excessively Nice stalked pacesetter (and 3-5 favorite) Bella Banissa, moved off the rail on the turn and rallied three-wide to win by 1 1/4 lengths. She ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.78.

Fusaichi Rock Star is owned by Fusao Sekiguchi, who owned Fusaichi Pegasus, the winner of the 2000 Kentucky Derby.

Fusaichi Rock Star led throughout 6 1/2 furlongs, winning by three-quarters of a length in 1:17.87. Saturday's race marked the colt's career second start, following a third in a maiden race on July 24.

Only four probable for Best Pal

Baffert may have half the starters in the Best Pal Stakes, an important prep for the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 8. Baffert will start Actxecutive and Roman Ruler. There are only two other probable starters - Things Happen and Wetherly.

Roman Ruler, a maiden winner in his lone start, will be making his stakes debut. He worked five furlongs in 57.80 seconds on Monday, the fastest of 56 recorded works at the distance.

Actxecutive was second in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship on July 17, his third start. He worked five furlongs in 58.80 seconds on Monday. Things Happen was timed in 1:00 for the same distance.

The Best Pal Stakes is one of three stakes run Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday's program is highlighted by the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds over 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Blackdoun, an impressive winner of the second division of the Oceanside Stakes in his U.S. debut on July 21, will go favored.

Sunday's Grade 2 $200,000 Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap over seven furlongs includes top sprinter Pico Central against Amerindio, Disturbingthepeace, Domestic Dispute, Kela, Marino Marini and Taste of Paradise.

Kela won the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap on July 25.

Even the Score to pass on Classic

Even the Score, the winner of two stakes for older horses at Hollywood Park earlier this year, will not start in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 22 because of a bruised foot, trainer Vladimir Cerin said over the weekend.

Even the Score was third as the favorite in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 10.

Last week, Cerin cautioned that Even the Score must have a workout by the weekend to remain on schedule for the Pacific Classic over 1 1/4 miles. Those plans were abandoned by Saturday.

"He's just galloping every day," Cerin said. "We may be able to work in a week, but that won't be enough to be running over a mile and a quarter. Maybe if things go well, we can run in the Mile at the end of the meeting."

The $250,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap over a mile on Sept. 5 is the final major dirt race for older horses at the meeting. Owned by Ro Parra, Even the Score has won 9 of 29 starts and $751,629.

The Pacific Classic field is led by Choctaw Nation and Pleasantly Perfect, the first two finishers of the $250,000 San Diego Handicap on Aug. 1. Pleasantly Perfect won the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic and $6 million Dubai World Cup last March. The San Diego Handicap was his first start since the Dubai World Cup.

Other candidates include During, Night Patrol, Olmodavor, and Total Impact, the winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Monday, Choctaw Nation worked a half-mile in 48.40 seconds.

Makeup Artist doing fine, considering

Makeup Artist, who starts in Wednesday's $75,000 Osunitas Handicap, is winless in three starts this year. The fact that she is racing at all is a delight to owner George Krikorian and trainer John Shirreffs.

Less than a week after Makeup Artist won the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes at Hollywood Park in May 2003, she was rushed to a local equine hospital with a serious stomach illness. "She almost died," Krikorian said. "She has obstruction in her intestinal tract and colicked. We were fortunate to get her back."

Makeup Artist underwent surgery to have four feet of small intestine removed, an operation that ended her 2003 campaign. Earlier this year, she made three starts in Grade 3 stakes at Hollywood Park, finishing sixth in the Wilshire Handicap, seventh in the Hawthorne Handicap (a rare start on dirt) and a decent third in the Royal Heroine Stakes on July 3.

In the Royal Heroine, Makeup Artist finished 2 1/2 lengths behind Janeian, rallying from fifth but failing to draw any closer in the final furlong. Shirreffs was not discouraged. He thought she might need time to improve.

"She went through a lot last year through the surgery and the recovery," Shirreffs said. "I wondered if she'd need a few races to get in top form. When they go from 3-year-olds to 3-year-olds and up they have to re-prove themselves."

Purchased for $250,000 as a yearling in 2001, Makeup Artist has won 2 of 7 starts and $149,464.

The Osunitas is restricted to fillies and mares who have not won a first-place purse of $50,000 at a mile or over this year. The race could provide Makeup Artist with a chance for a victory and a return to a graded stakes, perhaps the $200,000 Palomar Breeders' Cup Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on turf on Sept. 4.

"She's coming along really well," Krikorian said. "If she hadn't responded to the training, I would have retired her. John has really taken his time. She looks fabulous."

* Janeen Painter, an exercise rider for trainer Richard Mandella, has been booked to ride the first-time starter Gentleman's Lady in Wednesday's first race. Painter, 34, has not ridden since the late 1990's, when she was active in the Southwest.