08/12/2003 11:00PM

Local debut, class relief for Baptize


DEL MAR, Calif. - Baptize, the winner of five turf stakes in 2000 and 2001, makes his California debut and first start for a claiming price in a $68,000 optional claiming race at Del Mar on Friday.

Baptize, 5, has not started since finishing sixth in an allowance race at Keeneland in April, his only start of the year. Previously trained in the East by Bill Mott and James Bond, Baptize is now trained by Bobby Frankel and is owned by Gary and Mary West. He has won 7 of 17 starts and $534,196.

Six of Baptize's seven wins came in 2000 and 2001. In 2001, he won the Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland and two Grade 2 stakes - the Arlington Classic at Arlington Park and the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame at Saratoga.

Last year, Baptize had one victory in five starts, an allowance race at one mile at Belmont. He finished unplaced in four stakes.

Baptize has been based in California since early May, according to Frankel's assistant, Humberto Ascanio. Baptize has worked steadily in recent weeks, including a five-furlong move in 58.80 seconds last Sunday.

"He had a good work the other day," Ascanio said. "It was faster than we wanted to go."

Baptize is entered to be claimed for $125,000 and has five opponents. Patrick Valenzuela rides Baptize.

The biggest threats may come from Frankel's other starter, Sumitas, and Soud, who finished second in a similar race at Hollywood Park on July 10.

Sumitas, entered for a $125,000 claiming price, is the only member of the field who has raced on turf at this meet. On July 30, he finished fourth in an optional claiming race at one mile.

Sumitas, 7, is winless in 11 starts dating back to the Grade 2 Knickerbocker Handicap at Belmont Park in October 2001. He finished second to stablemate Requete in the restricted San Marino Handicap at Santa Anita last February.

Soud, a 5-year-old trained by Neil Drysdale, won consecutive allowance races at Hollywood Park in May and June. On July 10 at Hollywood Park, Soud led in midstretch of a one-mile allowance race on turf, but was caught near the finish by Bayou the Moon, losing by a head.

Despite the loss, Soud is likely to be favored on Friday.