07/20/2003 11:00PM

Going for a good opening act


DEL MAR, Calif. - It is time once again to suspend belief, to step through the looking glass, and otherwise pretend that Thoroughbred horse racing is a rollicking holiday with more happy endings than a Hollywood movie.

In other words, it is time for Del Mar.

So forget about the inflated summer rents, the wall-to-wall traffic on I-5, and the claustrophobic backside. For the next seven weeks, adult summer camp is in session. No supervision is required, but sunscreen is recommended.

This summer, Del Mar fans again will be treated to Loud Music Night after the twilight card each Friday in the plaza. On selected Saturday mornings, patrons will be encouraged to consume doughnuts by the armload and question special racing guests. Then, on Sunday nights after dark, there will be movies on the paddock big screen. Imagine, "Phar Lap" under the stars.

Ian Jory, for one, will be taking the translation of "del mar" to literal extremes this season. Instead of living by the sea, the adventurous Jory will be afloat, bunking on his sailboat in an accommodating San Diego marina. Under protest, he will commute to the track each day by a landward route, otherwise he can be reached by signaling with an Aldis lamp. And when he shows at the track, you won't miss him in the paddock - he'll be the one with the layer of salt, the eyepatch and a tendency to mumble "aaarrrrgh!" when something goes awry.

Jory, who won the 1990 Del Mar Futurity with local hero Best Pal, thought he might win the closing-day Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park with Continental Red. So did the players who made the reliable Cal-bred their 2-1 favorite. Continental Red finished third, however, to Puerto Banus and Cagney, beaten about two lengths in the process.

"I was pleased enough with him," Jory said. "He was flying at the finish. Those other two just got away from him a little bit. We'll point for the Del Mar Handicap now at the end of the meet."

Jory at least came away with a winner on Sunday when Just Parkin clicked in a six-furlong allowance. Casting his sights long-range, the trainer thinks the 3-year-old Just Parkin could end up in the same league as Explicit, Jory's track-hopping sprint star of 2001.

"At this stage of his career, he's every bit as good as Explicit. Maybe better," Jory said.

From closing day to opening day, and now Jory hopes to make some kind of an impression in the first division of the Oceanside Stakes with Kofi, who will be taking on the likes of Singletary, Sweet Return, and Excess Summer at a mile on the grass. Fairly Ransom, Stanley Park, and Banshee King meet in the second division of the race.

Of the more than $6 million designated for stakes during the meet, the two divisions of the opening-day Oceanside represent only $150,000. For many of the 3-year-olds, this will be their chance to shine. For the best of them, however, the $300,000 Del Mar Derby looms at the end of the meet.

Kofi, owned by Mary Ward of New York, is a son of General Meeting who is named for the secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Anan. Far from being creature of peace, however, the four-legged Kofi needed a drastic equipment change just to keep himself, and others, out of trouble. That was in May, shortly after finishing fifth in his fourth try against maidens.

"We thought he might kill somebody, or hurt himself, so we cut him," said Tony Gonzalez, Jory's assistant, as he stood by Kofi's Del Mar stall. "Now look at him. He's a pony."

Gelding, when it works, will do that to a rambunctious young colt. Snip, snip, and presto! Kofi was transformed into a proper gentleman. On Monday morning, after some light exercise, he stood like a rental horse, soothed by his ice boots, as a total stranger stuck out his hand for a sniff and a lick. Kofi played along, then took a nip at a finger, as if to say, "Look, pal, it was a castration, not a lobotomy."

Kofi's alteration paid off quickly with a maiden win on the Hollywood grass at at 1 1/16 miles. His performance gave Jory the courage to try the Oceanside, with its restricted conditions.

Bred by Marvin and Sonja Malmuth, Kofi comes from a family that has thrived at Del Mar. He is out of Sonja's Faith, who finished second for Jory in the 1998 Ramona Handicap (now the John C. Mabee), defeating subsequent champion Fiji in the process.

The family also includes Marvin's Faith, who won the 1994 La Jolla Handicap on the Del Mar grass, as well as the stakes-placed Try Jory, who had the decency to behave in public while carrying his trainer's name. Try Jory is now competing in dressage.

"He's not a bad little horse," Jory said of Kofi. "And there's quite a lot of speed in there, which could work for a horse like him, who can sit just off them. Who knows? Maybe we'll get lucky."