08/18/2003 11:00PM

Labamta Babe starts up again

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DEL MAR, Calif. - And now for Act 3 for Labamta Babe. He was a promising 3-year-old in the spring of 2002, but went to the sidelines following a victory in the Santa Catalina Stakes. After a poor fall campaign, he seemed on the ascension again this past January, when he won an allowance race at Santa Anita while gearing up for the Strub Series.

But Labamta Babe failed miserably as the favorite one race later, emerging with sore ankles, and was given a lengthy vacation.

Labamta Babe returns to the races for the first time in seven months on Thursday, when he tops a field of five at Del Mar in an optional-claiming race carrying a purse of $70,000. The race, at 1 1/16 miles, goes as the third on a good weekday card that is punctuated by several intriguing allowance races, plus a maiden race on the grass.

Labamta Babe raced twice within 13 days in January, an unusual schedule for a horse trained by Bobby Frankel, who usually judiciously spaces the races of his horses. "It wasn't a good idea, I guess," Humberto Ascanio, the Del Mar-based assistant to Frankel, said with a chuckle Tuesday morning. "He's doing good now. He just had sore ankles. Nothing serious. He just needed time."

The main rival to Labamta Babe figures to be the vastly improved Daunting, who has won three times in four starts since being claimed for $16,000 in March by trainer Mark Glatt. In his last start, Daunting captured the Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury Park on July 19.

"When we took him, I was just hoping we had a horse who could win for $20,000," Glatt said Tuesday morning. "He had some back class, and he didn't have anything wrong with him that would keep him from going up a little bit."

Daunting beat $32,000 claimers, then $50,000 claimers, before having the misfortune of ending up in the same race in which South American hotshot Candy Ride made his United States debut. After losing to Candy Ride, Daunting went to Canterbury for the Claiming Crown.

"I don't know how legitimate the field was at Canterbury, but the third-place horse," Glatt said, referring to Patton's Victory, "came back and won a $75,000 stake at Prairie Meadows."

Glatt said he considered taking Daunting to this Sunday's Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs, but decided it made more financial sense to stay home. "It's the conservative choice," he said.