08/12/2008 12:00AM

French filly X factor in Oaks

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Storm Mesa won the prep race, the San Clemente Handicap. Satan's Circus was second in the American Oaks. And Lethal Heat is being wheeled right back after a win against the boys on Friday in the Real Good Deal Stakes.

The leading contenders for the Grade 1, $350,000 Del Mar Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on Saturday are fairly well established. But there is a mystery horse whom trainer John Shirreffs is hoping stacks up with them.

Oceane Music, unbeaten in three starts in France, will make her United States debut in the Oaks, to be run at 1 1/8 miles on turf. Shirreffs on Tuesday morning said Oceane Music arrived about 12 days ago after being purchased privately by bloodstock agent Emmanuel de Seroux for owner Marsha Naify. She has had one workout here.

"I took her out on the turf course and let her stretch her legs," Shirreffs said. "Her last two races were pretty close together. I left her over there as long as possible so I wouldn't have to do too much with her. She ran against some good horses there."

Entries for the Oaks were scheduled to be finalized on Wednesday. In addition to Lethal Heat (Rafael Bejarano the rider), Oceane Music (Mike Smith), Satan's Circus (Garrett Gomez), and Storm Mesa (Eddie Martin Jr.), others considered probable as of Tuesday afternoon are Bel Air Sizzle (Clinton Potts), Ginger Pop (Richard Migliore), Magical Fantasy (Alex Solis), Million Dollar Run (Tyler Baze), Missit (David Flores), and Misty Ocean (Joel Rosario).

Baze opts for Awesome Gem

Jockey Tyler Baze has chosen to ride Awesome Gem, the runner-up in last year's Pacific Classic, in this month's Pacific Classic instead of Mast Track, whom Baze rode to victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

The Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic is the richest and most important race of the meet. It anchors a card on Aug. 24 that also features the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile on turf, Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Handicap for male sprinters, and Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo Handicap for female sprinters.

Others pointing for the Pacific Classic are Barcola, Delosvientos, Go Between, McCann's Mojave, Mostacolli Mort, Out of Control, Student Council, Surf Cat, Well Armed, and Zappa.

Surf Cat, who finished second to Well Armed in the San Diego Handicap last time out, worked a mile in 1:38.20 on Tuesday for trainer Bruce Headley.

Dodger pitcher's filly on a roll

Trainer Howard Zucker is hoping Queen of the Catsle can win Thursday's seventh race and clear her second-level allowance condition, because he has another filly ready to move into that spot.

Synnin and Grinnin, owned by Los Angeles Dodger starting pitcher Brad Penny, scored her fourth consecutive victory on Sunday when she beat a first-level allowance field, thus giving Zucker two female turf sprinters with, at present, the same conditions.

"I need to get Queen of the Catsle out of the way," Zucker said.

Synnin and Grinnin finished out of the money in the first five starts of her career, but has since rattled off four straight wins. She was risked for a claiming price three times, twice in races she won.

"As she's gotten older and more mature she's gotten over some small physical things that bothered her," Zucker said. "She can run, obviously. I had no problem starting her for $25,000 when she first came back this year. She was way too excitable coming back. The first two times she ran for $25,000, Brad and I agreed. The third time, I had cold feet. He was okay with it. I guess staring down those hitters gives you [confidence]."

Zucker said Synnin and Grinnin has benefitted by the hands-on care of his foreman, Victor Ortiz.

"He takes her to the paddock, schools her, and saddles her," Zucker said. "She's been a challenge with her behavior."

Mullins has two pointing to Futurity

Arashi Cat and Blazing Spirit, who finished one-two for trainer Jeff Mullins in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race on Saturday, will likely both move on to the Grade 1, $250,000 Del Mar Futurity on the meet's closing day, Sept. 3.

"I'll point for the Futurity if everything goes well," Mullins said.

Arashi Cat won in his debut, which is unusual for Mullins, who has a strike rate of less than 10 percent with first-time starters. Blazing Spirit has raced twice, and finished second both times.

"We've always been high on Arashi Cat," Mullins said. "It's always nice when I have a first-time winner, because they should move up. If they win first time under my care, it's sheer talent. Blazing Spirit had a horrible trip."

Salty Sarah will await Cal Cup in fall

Another trainer who rarely cracks with first-time starters, Ray Bell, pulled off an upset in Sunday's second race with Salty Sarah, who got up in the very last jump of her debut to capture a six-furlong race for maiden 2-year-old fillies bred in California.

Her closing punch would seemingly make her effective at seven furlongs, in a race like the Grade 1, $250,000 Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 1. But Bell said Salty Sarah sustained some minor injuries in the race, so he was inclined to be patient. He will keep Salty Sarah, a daughter of Bertrando, against Cal-breds, and point for the California Cup Juvenile Fillies on Oct. 5 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

"She's a nice filly and had been training well, but we never put the pedal to the metal, being it was her first time out," Bell said. "I thought the distance might be too short for her. She got cut during the race on her right hind leg by a filly outside her. She needed six stitches on her pastern, and she tore a quarter off her right front. That makes her race all the more unbelievable.

"I think, down the line, she might be a nice filly for the Cal Cup. I like her. She might be all right."

French connection clicks with Headache

Leonard Powell is making the most of his 12-horse barn, and helping a fellow Frenchman along the way. Powell and jockey Julien Couton combined to win Saturday's second race with the French-bred claiming horse Headache, who gave Powell his seventh win from just 32 starters this year, and gave Couton his second win of the year, both of which have come with Headache.

Powell, 31, has been training on his own for two years, after working for trainers Bill Currin, Neil Drysdale, and John Shirreffs. He met Couton four years ago at Deauville, and has tried to boost the rider's career.

"He rode 70 winners in France and then came here to be an exercise rider for Patrick Biancone," Powell said. "When Biancone was suspended, I hired him. He's done good work in the mornings, so I gave him a chance in the afternoon. The second ride for me, he won."

Couton, 27, said he came to the United States "on a working vacation one winter, and I liked it so much I stayed." That was almost two years ago.

Couton does not currently have an agent booking mounts for him, but he's hoping more success will bring more business, and an agent, his way.

Couton and Powell are scheduled to team up this weekend with the 3-year-old maiden filly Big Day Today.

* Colonel John, preparing for the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 23, breezed five furlongs in 59 seconds on Tuesday morning for trainer Eoin Harty. The time was the best of 37 at the distance, and was the only work of 93 Tuesday that was adjudged by the clockers as breezing.