09/08/2002 11:00PM

Fun and games to lighten the load

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Since there is no way to go straight from Sept. 10 to Sept. 12, like skipping the 13th floor in a hotel, Wednesday has been dedicated as a day of remembrance. So it shall be.

And while it is important to reflect upon the unspeakable events of the date, and how a nation was violated, and more than 3,000 people lost to terrorist attacks, there is also good reason to take Shakespeare's advice from "The Tempest," as uttered by Prospero:

"Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that is gone."

The sporting world offers feeble solace for those who wish to commemorate Sept. 11, 2002, as an indelibly tragic anniversary. There will be places for them to honor the day and the dead - in their churches, their homes, and in the privacy of their own hearts. Chances are, the racetrack is the last place they will be.

Still, the escapism of fun and games has its therapeutic role in a society still shaky from shared trauma. For some there is safety in numbers, comfort in a crowd. It works for personal loss, as well as national mourning.

"I'm just glad I've got something to do that day, instead of just sitting around and thinking about it," said Mike Pegram, whose Del Mar home sports trophies from a Kentucky Derby, a Preakness, and a Dubai World Cup, among others. "I picked up a paper yesterday, and I had to put it down. It just gives you chills. But nothing we do is going to bring those people back."

"We've had the pain. We've had the suffering. Now we're going to try and correct the problem," said Ed Friendly, who campaigned stakes winners Vivid Angel, Gray Slewpy, and Purely Cozzene with his late wife, Natalie. "I don't know that it does any good to stay at home and mope.

"I was a teenager on Dec. 7, 1941," Friendly went on. "After that, I spent 3 1/2 years in the infantry, in the South Pacific. All my life I've gone about my business on Dec. 7, and that was the worst day in my life. It changed the world forever. I just think when tragedy hits, you pick up the pieces, go on with your life.

"And as horrific as the events of Sept. 11 were," Friendly added, "Natalie's passing on May 9 was as horrendous to me as anything could be."

Pegram and Friendly will be represented in the Del Mar Futurity with two of the five runners trained by Bob Baffert in the field of eight.

Richard Mandella, who will try to upset the Baffert machine with Gentlemen's Club, tried his sardonic best to chip away at the psychological disadvantage of being so utterly outnumbered.

"Five, huh?" Mandella said, a brow arched. "Doesn't show much confidence, does it?"

Friendly laughed when he heard the crack. "Actually, Bob could have run seven or eight, but he cut back and sent a couple East," he said. "I suppose you could look at it from both angles, both good and bad, having so many good young horses in one barn. Like the Yankees, with a whole lineup of great hitters.

"But I never object to a champion," Friendly said. "Of course, I'd rather he had only one in there, as long as it was mine."

Pegram owns Icecoldbeeratreds, winner of the Graduation Stakes on July 31 while Friendly runs Friendly Mike, an impressive winner of his only start at Del Mar, Aug. 3. They will be joined from the Baffert herd by Kafwain, Chief Planner, and Bull Market.

While Pegram has enjoyed giddy success on the national and international stage - courtesy of Real Quiet, Captain Steve, and Silverbulletday - Friendly has yet to win one of the big ones after 33 years in the game. He is hoping that Friendly Mike will be a ticket to important races even beyond Del Mar.

"This is going to sound like I'm a proud father," Friendly said, "but this colt has considerable ability. On top of that, he's got a good mind. He's an easy horse to be around. And what I really like about him is that he lays down in his stall. It takes a smart horse to relax and do that."

The Friendly horses always ran in the name of Natalie and Ed. Earlier this year, as Natalie Friendly was dealing with the final days of a long battle with cancer, she bade her husband to start buying horses in his own name. They had been married for 50 years.

Friendly went in partnership with his nephew, Michael Foster, on a group of horses purchased at the Barretts sale of 2-year-olds last March. Friendly Mike, a son of Honour and Glory, cost $250,000.

"Natalie never really got to know much about this colt," Friendly said. "At the time we bought him, she knew she was going. It was just a question of how fast. But she wanted me to go on, and continue to have fun with the horses."

That's why they call it a Futurity.