09/06/2002 12:00AM

Habibti back from her layoff


DEL MAR, Calif. - After a four-month break, Habibti returns in Sunday's $75,000 Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar, a race that trainer Bob Baffert expects to lead to a start in more prominent stakes this fall.

The winner of the Del Mar Debutante and Hollywood Starlet last year, Habibti has not run since finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 3. Baffert warned that she is not 100 percent ready for a return.

"She might come up a little short, but she's doing well," he said. "This was a last-minute thought."

Owned by The Thoroughbred Corp., Habibti was considered for the six-furlong CERF Handicap on Wednesday until the decision was made to supplement her for $1,000 to the Torrey Pines.

Run over 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-old fillies, the Torrey Pines is restricted to nonwinners of a first-place purse of $60,000 at a mile or over this year.

Earlier this year, Habibti finished second to You in two Grade 1 stakes at Santa Anita - the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks.

Mike Smith will ride Habibti for the first time, replacing Victor Espinoza who is traveling on Sunday.

Habibti will have nine opponents, including Ragin T Rex, the winner of the Manhattan Beach Stakes and Finlandia Cup Handicap on turf this summer. She has never won beyond six furlongs on the dirt.

Trainer Wally Dollase starts Bare Necessities, who won an allowance race at Hollywood Park in June, but was unplaced in her stakes debut on turf in the San Clemente Handicap.

Match of the mules

Black Ruby and Taz, the star mules from the northern California fair circuit, will renew their rivalry in a $10,000 match race on Sunday.

The 400-yard match race will not include betting and will be held after the ninth race, at approximately 6:20 p.m.

The two have been rivals on the northern California fair circuit in recent years, with Black Ruby dominating. In their last meeting, though, Taz upset Black Ruby in the California State Fair Open Mule Championship at Sacramento on Aug. 24.

"In my wildest dreams, I never thought they would get this popular," said Ed Burdick, Taz's trainer. "We've gotten letters from kids who say they are Taz fans."

For Sunday's race, Black Ruby drew the inside post and will be ridden by Jim Burns. Taz will be ridden by Jack Kaenel. The duo will meet in a rematch at Fairplex Park on Saturday that will include betting.

Gentlemen's Club sharp

A brisk workout by Gentlemen's Club on Friday left trainer Richard Mandella optimistic that he could dethrone Bob Baffert in Wednesday's $250,000 Del Mar Futurity at seven furlongs.

Gentlemen's Club worked five furlongs in 59.40 seconds under jockey Alex Solis, which was faster than Mandella had anticipated. Gentlemen's Club broke off a length behind a stablemate, and rallied on the inside after the stablemate was eased out of the work by design at the top of the stretch.

A few minutes later, while watching Gentlemen's Club cool out, Mandella stopped short of predicting victory for Gentlemen's Club, who has not started since winning a five-furlong maiden race at Hollywood Park on June 9.

"I wouldn't say he couldn't win," Mandella said. "It doesn't look like that took too much out of him. Before we ran him we blew him out a quarter to sharpen him up. We won't have to do that again."

Gentlemen's Club was out of serious training in early summer because of sore shins but has returned to work well recently. Mandella was forced into the Del Mar Futurity after an allowance race for 2-year-olds failed to fill this weekend.

"I think he has the makings of a good horse," Mandella said. "He might just want the seven-eighths so bad that it will work out."

In the Futurity, Gentlemen's Club will face five colts trained by Baffert - Bull Market, Chief Planner, Friendly Mike, Icecoldbeeratreds, and Kafwain - as well as Outta Here and Total Advantage.

Baffert has won the last six runnings of the Del Mar Futurity, dominating the race in the same way that Mandella won six consecutive $1 million handicap races in Southern California in 1996-98. Mandella is more concerned about the race than knocking off Baffert.

"I haven't followed the other colts that much," he said. "It doesn't matter if it's him, McAnally or Frankel. My horse is who I'm interested in."

Baffert worked four hopefuls over five furlongs on Friday. Icecoldbeeratreds, a confirmed front-runner, worked in 58.40 seconds; Kafwain was timed in 59.40; Chief Planner went in 59.80; and Friendly Mike was timed in 1:01.80.

"Icecoldbeeratreds is a fast sonofagun," Baffert said. "He's just a speedball. He'll be out there, and seven-eighths will be question mark."

Canzone a U.S. stakes winner

Canzone will be pointed for the $500,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 5 following her first U.S. stakes win in Thursday's $76,050 Thoroughbred Owners of California Handicap.

Ridden by G.F. Almeida, Canzone was a convincing two-length winner as the 2-1 favorite, finishing 1 3/8 miles on turf in 2:13.69. Nepenthe, the defending champion, finished second, a length in front of Tropical Lady.

Almeida kept Canzone in sixth for the first mile and she made a wide rally through the stretch to pull away.

"I thought she'd be farther back, but she was very close," trainer Eduardo Inda said.

The TOC 'Cap ended a two-race losing streak for Canzone. She ran fourth in the Grade 1 Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park in June and fifth in the Ramona Handicap here on July 27. The 5-year-old beat males in the Group 1 Grande Premio Sao Paulo in Brazil in 2001 and was second in the 2001 Brazilian Oaks.

Silva empties barn

Trainer Jose Silva has dispersed his 25-horse stable, citing the escalating costs of worker's compensation insurance.

Reached at his home in Tijuana, Mexico, earlier this week, Silva said he is uncertain whether he will resume training.

He said the decision depends on continuing negotiations between racing officials and insurance companies for a plan that would substantially lower worker's compensation rates paid by trainers to cover stable staff and jockeys.

Similar efforts have stalled in recent months.

"I can't afford so much workmen's compensation," he said. "I lose money all the time and I can't afford to train horses."

Silva, 55, said his horses were sent to several trainers, including Art Sherman, Jeff Bonde, Sal Gonzalez, and Marty Jones.

Silva has trained such notable stakes winners as El Atroz, the winner of the 1993 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows, and Proud Tower, the California-bred champion 2-year-old colt of 2000.

Native Desert sidelined

Native Desert, the millionaire turf miler, is out of training with an ankle injury, according to trainer Juan Garcia.

Native Desert was being pointed to the California Turf Championship Handicap at Bay Meadows last weekend when he was sidelined, Garcia said. He said X-rays revealed no major injuries, and that Native Desert will be out for two to three months.