05/15/2002 11:00PM

Frostad has bulldog in Dixie

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BALTIMORE - Mark Frostad heads back to Woodbine in the spring after wintering at Fair Grounds and then racing at Keeneland, but he is not afraid to take on the best in the United States when he has the ammunition. And he has arrived at Pimlico Race Course with the only weapon he can get past security on Saturday.

Frostad sends out the lightly raced but talented Strut the Stage in the $200,000 Dixie Handicap, a Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile turf race that goes as the 10th on the 13-race Preakness Stakes card.

"He's a bulldog," said Frostad, wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs cap on Thursday morning at Pimlico. "He's a throwback to Northern Dancer - close coupled, big quarters."

And big heart. Tiny but mighty, Strut the Stage has won five times in eight starts. He suffered a heart-breaking defeat in last year's Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park. After getting a freshening during the winter, he returned April 20 at Keeneland and rallied to beat a strong classified allowance field.

"That race was a lot tougher than I expected, but that's the kind of race you get at Keeneland," Frostad said. "This race came up tough, too."

Indeed, Strut the Stage will have to outrun another son of Theatrical, a grandson of Northern Dancer, Del Mar Show, who is making his first start since a disappointing performance in the Dubai Duty Free on March 23. Del Mar Show needs to be covered up early, but he did not get an ideal trip in Dubai.

"He saw a lot of daylight leaving there and was a little rank," his trainer, Bill Mott, said. "He was on the outside, and he was pulling hard."

Jockey Jerry Bailey should have his hands full in this race, too, because there is precious little pace.

Del Mar Show finished 10th of 16 in Dubai, but his form before that was terrific. He won five of his previous six starts, including a courageous victory in Gulfstream's Fort Lauderdale Handicap, in which he and Bailey encountered severe traffic trouble at several points in the race.

Seven others are entered, but Dr. Brendler likely will be scratched, according to trainer Graham Motion.

Dr. Kashnikow, like Strut the Stage, is making his second start of the year, and figures to move forward off a troubled trip, finishing fourth, in Aqueduct's Fort Marcy Handicap.

Drama Critic probably will enjoy a return to a middle-distance race after finding longer distances beyond his range earlier this year.

- additional reporting by David Grening