07/23/2003 11:00PM

At long last, Sarava ready to run - with blinkers

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Both last year and this year, a potential Triple Crown winner was denied in the Belmont Stakes. That is the only similarity between the two races. When Empire Maker won the Belmont this year, the perception was that the world was back on its axis. When Sarava won the Belmont last year, most people had to check their program to see who, exactly, had just won.

Sarava was a 70-1 winner of the Belmont. It was considered a fluke. And he has done nothing since to disprove that notion. Then again, he hasn't even raced.

Two injuries, a trainer change, and a patient comeback philosophy have kept Sarava on the sidelines for more than 13 months. That layoff is scheduled to end on Saturday, when Sarava returns to action in Del Mar's seventh race, a $70,000 allowance race at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

"Hopefully he'll be ready. He's had plenty of time," Gary Drake, whose New Phoenix Stable is the majority owner of Sarava, said with a chuckle on Thursday.

Sarava had a hairline fracture last summer that first sent him to the sidelines. While he was recuperating, he was taken from trainer Ken McPeek in Kentucky and sent to California to Bob Baffert. This spring, when Baffert sent horses to Churchill Downs for stakes races the week of the Kentucky Derby, Sarava returned to Churchill Downs. But a scheduled comeback race more than two months ago was scrapped because of a bruised foot. Sarava came back to California with Baffert.

"I'm going to run him in blinkers," Baffert said. "He's got a lot of Silver Charm in him. He's a laid-back dude. He won't show much in the mornings."

Drake said the delayed comeback has not made him anxious. "Our goal all along has been the Breeders' Cup," Drake said. "When we decided to change trainers, we looked around and thought sending him to California would be best since the Breeders' Cup is in California this year. And if we were going to make a change to California, one of the first names that came up was Bob.

"But I didn't know if he'd take the horse. It's a risk for him, because if he doesn't do well, people will be saying Kenny did a better job with him."

Sarava's rivals include Crafty C.T., an accomplished sprinter who is stretching out around two turns for trainer Howard Zucker, and Consistency, a lightly raced Unbridled colt who ran well last winter in Florida for trainer Tom Proctor, but who found himself overmatched in the Stephen Foster Handicap in his last start.

Vindication continues comeback attempt

Vindication, last year's champion 2-year-old colt, worked a half-mile in Florida on Thursday at the farm of owner Satish Sanan. Baffert, who trained Vindication to four victories without a loss last year, said Vindication will have another half-mile work in Florida, then will be sent to Del Mar on Aug. 4.

Baffert did not want to commit to a comeback race for Vindication, but said it is conceivable Vindication could race by the end of the meet at Del Mar if his progress continues uninterrupted.

"So far, so good," Baffert said.

Frankel will be a no-show this summer

Even though trainer Bobby Frankel will have a total of four starters in Del Mar's two Grade 1 grass races this weekend, the Hall of Fame trainer said he will not be seen here this summer. Frankel has been increasing his summer presence on the East Coast in the past two years, and said he will stay in Saratoga all summer. His California runners are overseen by long-time assistant Humberto Ascanio.

Frankel said opportunities for his horses are far greater this time of year on the East Coast. Most of his top-class runners will stay back there during the summer. Frankel said he probably will send Milwaukee Brew and Peace Rules to Del Mar for next month's Pacific Classic, but other than that, he will have a low profile here this summer.

"Where am I going to run out there?" Frankel said Thursday morning from Saratoga. "Where would I run horses like Sightseek or Wild Spirit or Spoken Fur? There's no program out there whatsoever.

"I can run the mares in the Delaware Handicap, or the Go for Wand, or the Personal Ensign. There's only one race for them out there," Frankel said, referring to next month's Clement Hirsch Handicap. "And the races here are worth more money. Plus with the workers' compensation situation out there, I'm trying to cut down."

Frankel has Megahertz and Tates Creek in Saturday's John C. Mabee Handicap for older fillies and mares. He will run Decarchy, and either Fateful Dream or Thady Quill, in Sunday's Eddie Read Handicap.

Redattore has tune up for Eddie Read

Redattore worked three furlongs on turf in 37 seconds on Thursday in preparation for Sunday's Grade 1, $400,000 Eddie Read.

Others expected for the Read are Decarchy, Irish Warrior, Mister Acpen, and Special Ring, and either Fateful Dream or Thady Quill.

Suances, who has not raced since last year's United Nation's Handicap, will bypass the Eddie Read and await the $75,000 Wickerr Handicap at one mile on Aug. 2, trainer Darrell Vienna said Thursday morning. Suances worked six furlongs on turf in 1:18 on Thursday morning. Orange cones, known as dogs, were well out past the middle of the course.

Fateful Dream or Thady Quill will also run in the Wickerr, according to Frankel.

Typical opening day for Baffert

When Attack Alert won on Wednesday's opening-day card, it marked the sixth consecutive year that Baffert has won the first 2-year-old maiden race of the season.

Baffert has been an immovable force with 2-year-olds at Del Mar. He has won the Del Mar Futurity a record seven straight years.

Attack Alert was beaten as an odds-on favorite under Corey Nakatani in his debut, but prevailed as the favorite on Wednesday.

"I thought he wouldn't get beat in his first race," Baffert said. "I took him over to Hollywood, he was scrambling, and Corey lost his stick."

Mike Smith was aboard Attack Alert Wednesday.

* Del Mar's first race on Thursday was delayed for 10 minutes by a tote malfunction that prevented patrons from placing wagers.

* Senor Swinger, the beaten favorite in the Virginia Derby earlier this month, worked a sharp half-mile in 49 seconds on Thursday for Baffert, who said Senor Swinger would likely make his next start in the Grade 2, $150,000 La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds on Aug. 16. "He worked awesome," Baffert said.

* Other significant turf works were recorded by Ballingarry (five furlongs, 1:03.60) and Little Treasure (five furlongs, 1:05.40), both of whom are trained by Laura de Seroux.

* David Flores will be absent from Del Mar on Saturday in order to ride Honor in War in the $250,000 Arlington Handicap at Arlington Park.

* Julie Krone celebrated her 40th birthday on Thursday, which was noted by track commentator Trevor Denman when the horses came on the track for the day's first race.

* Del Mar will present a free, all-day handicapping seminar on Sunday beginning at noon. Television personality Caton Bredar and Steve Wolfson Jr., who won this year's Daily Racing Form/NTRA Handicapping Tournament in Las Vegas, will be the guests of host Debra Giglio.