08/19/2008 12:00AM

Hyperbaric opts for softer spot

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Hyperbaric is nominated to the Grade 2, $400,000 Del Mar Mile on Sunday, but when trainer Julio Canani took a look at that prospective field, which includes such outstanding grass runners as Daytona, Monzante, and Whatsthescript, he decided he'd rather be smart than brave.

Instead, Hyperbaric will take the easier way out. He heads a field of 10 on Wednesday at Del Mar in the $80,000 Harry F. Brubaker Handicap, a restricted stakes in which Hyperbaric will be facing many of the same horses he defeated here July 28.

That last race, like the Brubaker, was at 1 1/16 miles on turf. Hyperbaric was the odds-on favorite that day, having faced the likes of Daytona and Whatsthescript in his three previous races. He won by a neck over Knockout Artist, with Sartorial another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Those two are back to challenge Hyperbaric on Wednesday.

"The other race is very tough," Canani said when perusing the field for the Del Mar Mile. "He worked good on the grass the other day."

Hyperbaric, 5, has raced just nine times. He ran four times at age 3, then was off for 14 months before returning in February.

"He had a knee," Canani said.

In five starts this year, Hyperbaric has never finished out of the money, but his only win came when he dropped out of graded stakes company into an optional claimer.

In addition to Knockout Artist and Sartorial, other top contenders in the Brubaker include Black Astor, Rush Rush, Vauquelin, and Worldly.

Vauquelin is making his first start in 50 weeks. He raced three times here last summer, scoring a win in a division of the Oceanside Stakes, but he has not raced since finishing seventh in the Del Mar Derby.

"He's had foot issues," Vauquelin's trainer, Kathy Walsh, said Monday morning. "He popped a quarter. Then he had an abcess in a foot. And when I had him at Hollywood earlier this year, he popped an abcess behind. I would have liked to have run him in a nonwinners-of-three allowance instead, but that's a hard category to fill. He's been training really great."

Black Astor has won two straight since hooking up with jockey Joe Talamo, including a victory against a second-level allowance field here July 26.

Worldly, who finished well back of Hyperbaric in the American Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 28, improved signficantly off that race and was a narrow loser in the Wickerr Handicap here July 25. That was his first start with blinkers. This is his third start following a layoff.