08/28/2001 12:00AM

Honey Fox foes in rematch


DEL MAR, Calif. - Newly minted Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella begins his quest for a stakes triple over the next few days when he sends out Argentine import Bucarest in Thursday's feature at Del Mar.

The race, at 1 3/8 miles on turf, is the $75,000 California Thoroughbred Trainers and Thoroughbred Owners of California Handicap, a name that takes almost as long to say as it will to run the race. Seven female grass runners are entered, but the race appears to be a match between Bucarest and Nepenthe, who finished second and third, respectively, in a similar 1 3/8-mile turf stakes, the Honey Fox, on Aug. 3.

Bucarest, who has raced just seven times, seems to have the most upside. When she ran in the Honey Fox, it was her first start in this country, and her first since last October in Brazil. She dropped far back early, but finished furiously to lose by a neck to Keemoon. Nepenthe was another half-length back in third.

Because Bucarest was a Group 3 stakes winner in Brazil, Mandella had high hopes for the 5-year-old mare when she arrived here. "She's a beautiful mare. She won a Group 3 pretty easily. She looked like she was worth sending up here," he said.

Mandella on Tuesday morning said he decided to start Bucarest in long-distance races so as to not conflict with another Argentine import, Paga, who, like Bucarest, is owned in part by R.D. Hubbard.

"[Bucarest] trained like she could go that far, but if you tightened her up, she could do pretty good at shorter distances," Mandella said. "And she's trained well on the dirt, so I'm sure we'll try that some day, too. The only reason we went the direction we did is that we didn't want her to run with Paga the first time."

Paga made her American debut on Aug. 8, when she won the 1 1/16-mile Osunitas Handicap here. She is scheduled to run again in Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Palomar Handicap. Mandella also will send out Bayou the Moon, a 3-year-old colt owned in part by Hubbard, in Monday's Grade 2, $300,000 Del Mar Derby.

Bucarest breaks from the outside post in the field of seven Thursday.

Nepenthe is racing in sharp form, with four consecutive in-the-money finishes. Before the Honey Fox, she was second to The Seven Seas in Hollywood Park's Estrapade Handicap, at 1 1/2 miles. The Seven Seas came out of that race to run second in Arlington Park's Beverly D. Stakes.

Mary Moscow is stretching out and stepping up in class, but enters the race on a roll, having won her last two starts.

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