07/25/2002 12:00AM

Hot Market can put himself in the Classic

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Trainer Craig Lewis had the perfect start on Wednesday's opening day at Del Mar, winning two races with as many starters. By Thursday morning, he was laying the groundwork for his first assault on the meeting's top race - the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 25.

The barn's hope for that race is Hot Market, who starts in a $70,000 allowance race over a mile on Saturday. An impressive win would give Lewis and owners John Harris and Per Antonsen an excuse to try the Pacific Classic, run over 1 1/4 miles.

"He'll have to win and impress me to go to there," Lewis said. "It will be a good test for our horse to see if he can handle the better horses."

Lewis considered the $250,000 San Diego Handicap on Aug. 4 for Hot Market, but opted for Saturday's allowance race when it filled.

Hot Market will be favored. He faces five others, including Malabar Gold, the winner of the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap on turf at Santa Anita in April; and Kela, the winner of an allowance race at Hollywood Park on June 27.

Malabar Gold has run primarily on turf in the last two years. He has only won a maiden race in five starts on dirt in his career. Trained by Ron Ellis, Malabar Gold was second in the Grade 3 Jaipur Handicap at Belmont Park on May 27, making him the only member of Saturday's race to be stakes-placed this year.

Lewis is hoping his success on Wednesday carries over to what will be a busy weekend. Lewis has never won the training title at Del Mar, and will have a difficult time reaching that milestone with trainer Bob Baffert aiming for his sixth straight title with a loaded stable.

That mattered little on Wednesday, when Lewis won the first race with Rehabilitated ($15.60), a $20,000 claimer, and an allowance race with Swordfish ($7). Trainer Bill Spawr also won two races - with My Friend Lumpy ($8.40) and McAdam ($7.60).

Aside from Hot Market on Saturday, Lewis has the maiden World of Fun in the 10th race. On Sunday, Lewis expects to have at least two runners - Nicole's Pursuit for Flying A Farms in the Fleet Treet Stakes, and a 2-year-old first-time starter, Golden Penny, in a maiden race.

"It will interesting to see if she's any good," Lewis said of Golden Penny.

Vindication, $2.15 million buy, to go Saturday

The long-awaited debut of Vindication, a $2.15 million yearling purchase from the 2001 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale, occurs in Saturday's seventh race for 2-year-old maidens.

Owned by Padua Stable and trained by Bob Baffert, Vindication, a Seattle Slew colt, drew the rail in an 11-horse field that features several promising juveniles. Parhelion, third in a maiden race at Hollywood Park on June 22, starts for Godolphin.

Skipping Stars, second in the Proctor Stakes at Hollywood Park, returns after a two-month break. Trainer Richard Mandella has two-first time starters - Jake Skate (by Arch) and Listen Indy (by A.P. Indy).

Much of the focus, and the betting, will be on Vindication, who has worked brilliantly in the last month. Still, Baffert cautioned that Vindication may need a start.

"I don't know if he can win first time out, but he's a good horse," Baffert said. "He might get a little tired going six furlongs."

The Baffert 2-year-old division began the Del Mar meeting in outstanding form on Wednesday when Bull Market ($8.20) won his debut by 3 1/4 lengths, running five furlongs in 57.28 seconds.

Bull Market will be pointed for the $150,000 Best Pal Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 21, Baffert said.

Potentially big weekend for Vienna

Trainer Darrell Vienna will have perfect attendance in the graded stakes at Del Mar this weekend.

On Saturday, Vienna has two chances in the Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap over six furlongs - Nuclear Debate, a turf stakes winner, and Disturbingthepeace, the upset winner of the Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 6.

In Saturday's Ramona Handicap for fillies and mares on turf, Vienna starts leading contender Janet. On Sunday, Vienna will start Deploy Venture, and maybe Suances, in the Eddie Read Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

One stakes win would be considered a success, anything more could be the highlight of the year.

"I'd like to get a little piece," Vienna said. "It's fun to be in these races when you have a chance to make some money and run in some top races."

Nuclear Debate and Disturbingthepeace bring contrasting styles to the Bing Crosby, which is led by two-time defending champion Kona Gold. Nuclear Debate has never won on dirt, while Disturbingthepeace won his first stakes in the Triple Bend.

"Nuclear Debate is good enough if he handles the ground," Vienna said.

"Disturbingthepeace has to go to another level."

Vienna is considering passing the Eddie Read with Suances and pointing for the Arlington Million on Aug. 17. Deploy Venture will be a longshot in his first start since March 2001.

"I don't know if he's a good enough horse," Vienna said of Deploy Venture.

"He's come back training super."

* General Challenge, the winner of the 2000 Santa Anita Handicap, is preparing to resume training after a two-year absence. The winner of the 1999 Pacific Classic, the 6-year-old General Challenge is expected to rejoin trainer Bob Baffert in coming days. General Challenge will be based with Baffert's second string at Hollywood Park.