07/27/2003 11:00PM

Going all out - for second


DEL MAR, Calif. - Man, what racing! Some of the very best horses on the grounds, competing in the three best races of the Del Mar weekend. Gut-wrenching stretch drives. Nail-biting finishes. Nerve-wracking suspense as the judges examined the photos.

For second.

Beau's Town, Megahertz, and Special Ring were conclusive winners of the Bing Crosby, the John C. Mabee, and the Eddie Read handicaps on Saturday and Sunday. Especially Special Ring, who thrust himself into the Breeders' Cup Mile consciousness with a course-record 1:45.87 for the nine-furlong Read.

Even the California filly Tucked Away had her moment in the sun, winning the $100,000 Fleet Treat Stakes for La Jolla's Nico Nirenberg on Sunday and making good on another sly Paddy Gallagher claim.

But for the exacta and trifecta players, it took a Mylanta milkshake to make it to the end of Sunday afternoon.

In the Crosby, favored Captain Squire had to hold off Bluesthestandard to save second by a neck. They were both beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Beau's Town.

In the Mabee, Megahertz was a half-length clear of a high-priced chorus line that included Tates Creek, Dublino, and Golden Apples. The placing judges, the stewards, and the optical experts were confounded, so they called it a triple dead heat, triggering three exactas, three quinellas, six trifectas, and a rush to the history books.

Special Ring and David Flores wrapped up the $400,000 Read early in the stretch and went on to win by five. But second place was worth $80,000, and apparently it spends, because the other five runners and riders were out for blood. At the end they were arrayed in a line, with Decarchy a neck in front of Irish Warrior, who was a head in front of Fateful Dream, who was a nose in front of Mister Acpen, who was a nose in front of Redattore.

(Before anyone starts waxing poetic about how the Mabee and the Read were an official handicappers' dream, consider the fact that the three in the Mabee dead heat carried 121, 122, and 123, while the winner carried 116. In the Read, Redattore gave Special Ring four pounds, 121-117, and couldn't find him, while runner-up Decarchy carried two pounds over his assigned 115. As an exact science, astrology is more reliable. Or darts.)

Flores dismounted from Special Ring and immediately asked for a fire extinguisher. The former course record of 1:46 3/5 was set by Al Mamoon in the 1986 Read, back in the days before hundredths of a second were known to exist.

"He did the same thing last year," Flores said, referring to Special Ring's Del Mar course-record mile of 1:32.72 against lesser company than he faced in the Read. Then again, Special Ring made the Read look like lesser company.

"He can be a little tough to ride," Flores noted. "You give him his head, and he'll drop right to the rail and take off. Take too much hold and he will fight. So I have to tease him a little. Give and take. Today, when he was looking around, I knew he was relaxed."

Flores was describing the basic theory behind the half-halt, a method of equitation that allows the rider to restrain without discouraging. A free-running monster like Special Ring needs rationing if he is to deal with the world's best milers in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 25.

Patriotic Diva, on the other hand, was lucky to wake up on July 26 in one piece. The 3-year-old daughter of Honour and Glory is nearing her first start for Paddy Gallagher, but a routine gallop last Friday morning turned into a nightmare when she spooked, threw the rider, and bolted off the wrong way around the outside of the clubhouse turn.

The rider was okay, but the filly was heading in the general direction of home, which is the Gallagher stable, located in the cluster of barns near the east end of the Del Mar grandstand. Patriotic Diva tried hard to make it through the out gap, but she missed by about 15 feet. Instead, she plowed into the heavy metal rail rimming the outside of the track, flipped over the fence and skidded along the ground.

She tried to get up and run again - flight being the basic survival tool of a horse - but by then her right foreleg was tangled in the flapping rein. She tripped and fell hard on the left side of her head. Her neck bowed in a grotesque arc as her heavy hindquarters pitched forward, then thudded to the dust. The filly struggled to her feet and stood quietly, head low and eyes glazed, as agent Tom Knust and trainer Richard Mandella freed her leg from the rein.

Gallagher arrived quickly from the track. For the next hour, the trainer hand-walked Patriotic Diva on his ring, watching for the slightest signs of internal trauma.

"There was no blood from her nose, her eyes, or her ears," Gallagher said Monday morning. "That first hour is critical, and she seemed like she was going to be okay, other than she looked like she'd been in a boxing match. She got pretty scraped up over that left eye.

"Believe it or not, she's back under tack this morning," Gallagher added. "She's tough, and she's lucky."

There's a bent metal rail at Del Mar to prove it.