09/01/2006 12:00AM

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Union Avenue, working out Thursday, has been shipped west by trainer Bill Mott for Sunday's Del Mar Derby.

DEL MAR, Calif. - A $400,000 turf race for 3-year-olds is an unusual place of refuge for Union Avenue and Point Determined, two leading contenders Sunday in the Grade 2 .

Union Avenue fled Kentucky for California, and can you blame him? It is a lot easier out West for a 3-year-old turf runner.

"We've got two or three here [in the East], so we thought we'd give it a try," trainer Bill Mott said.

Good move, because Union Avenue figures prominently in the 1 1/8-mile Del Mar Derby, and allows him to avoid Mott's top 3-year-old turf runners - unbeaten Grade 2 winner After Market, and Grade 2 winner Go Between.

Even though Union Avenue probably ranks no higher than third in his own stable, he will be among the favorites in the Del Mar Derby. And if a trip west is uncharted territory for the Union Avenue, at least he has been racing on grass. His main foe is a dirt horse.

Point Determined was one of the top 3-year-olds in California this past winter, but he had never raced or worked on turf until a half-mile team work Friday under Jorge Chavez. Working outside his rival, Point Determined appeared comfortable with the surface, and inched clear late.

"I like the way he moved over it," Baffert said. "[Chavez] said he felt good. He gave me the green light; that's all I needed to hear."

Runner-up in the Grade 2 Swaps last out, Point Determined is using the Del Mar Derby as a prep race for the Grade 2 Super Derby on Sept. 23 at Louisiana Downs.

"Some of the Point Givens are running on grass," Baffert said, "And if it doesn't work, we can still go to Louisiana Downs in 20 days."

Union Avenue and Point Determined top the 10-runner Del Mar Derby. It is not the strongest lineup in the history of the race, but there is plenty for bettors to choose from.

The field includes Oceanside Stakes winners Obrigado and Lightning Hit; Oceanside and La Jolla runner-up Porto Santo; improving Presidential Cause; front-runners Get Funky and Rateau; and maiden winner Nonsensical.

Union Avenue has won 3 of 6, including a 23-1 upset July 22 in the Grade 2 American Derby at Arlington. He has won over three turf courses, and will be racing for the first time in California.

"We were thinking that the horses on the East Coast stack up favorably [with the West Coast]," Mott said.

In fact, there has been little stability in the 3-year-old turf division in California. Five different horses have won the last five turf stakes, including split divisions of the Oceanside.

When A. P. Warrior beat Porto Santo by a nose three weeks ago, he flattered Point Determined's form. Point Determined finished eight lengths in front of A. P. Warrior in the Swaps.

While the Del Mar Derby is the first start on grass for Point Determined, he would not be the first turf stakes winner for his sire. The leading money earner sired by Point Given is Mott-trained turf runner Go Between ($860,340).

Baffert said the decision to start Point Determined on grass was a last-minute deal, but said fitness is not a concern.

"He's fit," Baffert said. "He's been working behind horses and finishing really well."

Porto Santo has been a disappointment to win bettors. He had an eventful trip and missed by a head as the odds-on favorite in the Oceanside on July 19, then lost by a nose as the 6-5 favorite Aug. 12 in the La Jolla. The derby is Porto Santo's third start of the meet; trainer Julio Canani expects another top performance.

"He's a little horse, and horses his size usually don't eat, but he's a good doer," Canani said. "I just hope there's speed in there."

Porto Santo will be ridden by Victor Espinoza, and yes, there is speed. Rateau, Get Funky, and Nonsensical all have speed.

Obrigado picked up his game winning the Oceanside.

"We put blinkers on him, and that made him much more focused," trainer Neil Drysdale said. "I think he's got room for improvement."