08/28/2001 11:00PM

Line runs from Ponona to Epsom


DEL MAR, Calif. - There is a fine line between a good idea and a bad idea, just as there is that same fine line between genius and stupidity. Little wonder the two are often confused. For example . . .

* Bob Baffert was just kidding. Or was he? Asked where Point Given would run next, following his win in the Travers, the trainer told the ESPN television audience, "Either the Goodwood Handicap or the Pomona Championship."

The Goodwood is nine furlongs, a little more than once around Santa Anita Park. It will be run on Sunday, Oct. 7, for a purse of $500,000. Tiznow won it last year, then won the Breeders' Cup Classic, which makes it a pretty good idea for Point Given's first race against older horses.

But if he runs in the Goodwood, essentially in his own backyard, Point Given could be confused. There would be no van ride to the airport, no long flight to the East, no humidity, and probably not much of an audience, after performing before 73,857 at the Belmont Stakes, 47,127 at the Haskell and 60,486 at the Travers.

The Pomona Championship, on the other hand, will be run for the 45th time on Sunday, Sept. 23, at Fairplex Park, about 30 miles east of Santa Anita.

The purse is $20,000, plus entry and starting fees. It is a Grade 3 race, but unfortunately it is restricted to Quarter Horses and run at 400 yards. Point Given is more like two Quarter Horses dressed in a Thoroughbred suit.

Baffert can be forgiven his flashback, however. He won the Pomona Championship in 1988 with Shawnes Favorite.

* This Saturday is "College Day at the Races" at Del Mar. What a concept, and a grand idea if there ever was one.

These are energetic young minds, our future leaders, all of them searching for a intellectual challenge and a warm place to spend their allowances. In California, you can start betting legally at the track once you reach your 18th birthday, although you still might have trouble buying a six-pack of Zima at the local Circle K. Eighteen also means college freshmen, that most vulnerable of all species, ripe for conversion to the aesthetic beauties of the racing game and the inherent greed of parimutuel gambling.

In this spirit, Del Mar is also offering a handicapping contest with a $500 prize, pitting schools, fraternities, sororities, whatever. I'm betting on the guys from the Delta Tau Chi house up from Faber College, if they are allowed through the gates.

* The next time anyone feels like complaining about a bum call by the stewards, it would be a good idea to thank the heavens above that we are not being ruled by the crew presiding at Epsom Downs in suburban London the other day.

There was a problem at the start of a five-furlong straightaway event. Not all of the gates opened at the same time, leaving some of the runners with a serious disadvantage.

In such cases, the entire race should be thrown out. At the very least, there should be refunds on all bets involving the horses who were deprived of a fair start. This is the custom at American racetracks, even though such a policy can be a painful blow the the handle.

The British stewards, however, let the results stand. No refunds. Perhaps a polite apology, but no satisfaction. Punters and press alike were righteously outraged.

"We want to be the center of worldwide betting," said commentator John McCririck, the mutton-chopped gadfly of the English racing press, "and yet we still have farces like this."

* This is probably a bad idea, but who knows? A group that reportedly includes Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church has raised eyebrows over their attempts to land the Uruguay market of international parimutuels.

Apart from the college gang at Del Mar on Saturday, the average American couldn't find Uruguay on the map. But that's beside the point. The Unification Church has been associated with such cultural eccentricities as tax evasion, mass weddings, and The Washington Times. Perhaps the gaming business is the natural extension of such activities.

* Finally, if you think running a far-flung network of racetracks is tough, you ought to try maintaining an updated Web site.

Information about Magna Entertainment Corporation, owners of such tracks as Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, can be found on the world wide web at magnaentertainment.com. Amid all the splashy graphics, designed to suggest the oval of a racetrack, the visitor can find out about company officers and directors, access the annual report, and tour the various MEC holdings.

There is also a prompt that urges you to "Check out the latest news about MEC." Okay, let's do it. Click, zoom, and the screen displays a single item, dated Oct. 27, 2000, referring to the day that Magna and a group of Mid-Atlantic racetracks announced that they were leaving the NTRA.

Apparently, nothing much has happened since.