07/29/2002 11:00PM

An ideal spot for Mighty David

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Much as trainer Christopher Paasch would love to visit Saratoga this summer, he wasn't quite ready to go this weekend. Had he been forced to, though, he would have sent his good 3-year-old sprinter Mighty David to the Amsterdam Stakes on Saturday. But Paasch got the spot for which he had hoped, right here at Del Mar, when an optional-claiming race on Thursday's card filled.

Paasch had been shopping for the right spot for Mighty David. He entered Mighty David in last Saturday's Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap here, then thought better of it and scratched.

"He's an improving 3-year-old, but against all that experience, I was afraid it would jerk his heart out," Paasch said.

Thursday, Mighty David faces a decidedly softer spot, though the race is strong for the level. Tavasco is making only his second start since finishing second in last year's Vernon O. Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park, Coded Message comes off a four-length victory at Hollywood, and the talented but fragile Our Shining Hour is returning from a lengthy layoff.

Mighty David has improved sharply for Paasch since blinkers were removed three races back. He has not finished worse than second since then, and comes off the best race of his career, a six-furlong allowance victory at Hollywood Park in which he earned a lofty 112 Beyer Speed Figure. That marked his fifth win in 15 starts.

Patrick Valenzuela, who rode Mighty David last time, is back aboard for the 6 1/2-furlong feature race, which goes as the seventh on the eight-race card.

Tavasco returned from a 6 1/2-month layoff on June 19 and was fourth in the Kerlan Memorial on the Hollywood turf. His maiden victory came at Del Mar three summers ago, and he has never finished out of the money in three starts on Del Mar's main track.

Coded Message might be better on turf, but he is in such sharp form that he must be respected. He also has keen early speed and figures as the one to catch.

Our Shining Hour is making his first start since January 2001. He won the first three starts of his career, including the Sunny Slope Stakes at age 2, but has seen his career interrupted by two significant injuries.

"He had surgery to remove a chip when he first got hurt," said his trainer, Howard Zucker. "Then we had him all the way back here last summer. He was one work away from running, and he cracked a hock. We had to put some screws in. He's probably going to need a race."

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