08/08/2004 11:00PM

Longshot takes West by storm


DEL MAR, Calif. - He's not quite the Giant Killer Jr. And even though you'd get an argument from Cigar, Del Mar still has a long way to go to be called a graveyard of favorites, at least in the Saratoga sense. But that was still a head-scratching, Hail Mary piece of work turned in by trainer Luis Seglin last Sunday, when the 6-year-old Miss Loren - the "other" Argentinean in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap - mowed down a chorus line of accomplished opponents like they were nailed to the sixteenth pole.

Seglin and his jockey, Jon "Hang Ten" Court, picked a choice spot to break through with their first stakes victories at Del Mar. Everything else will be anticlimactic, at least for a while.

For Seglin, a native of Buenos Aires, the win came after nine years in Southern California, training a small string and sniping at the edges of quality races. Five years ago, in the Autumn Days Handicap at the Oak Tree meet, Seglin popped at nearly 15-1 with Hula Queen. Then there was that quiet July 30 afternoon, during the 2001 Del Mar meet, when Seglin brought a maiden named Dyna King off a five-month layoff to rattle the rafters at 60-1. This time Miss Loren lit the board at 34-1, the longest shot in the field. How does that old saying go, the one that starts, "Fool me once+?"

After 36 starts and 10 wins back home, Miss Loren joined Seglin's stable last February.

"She has everything you need from a horse," Seglin said of Miss Loren. "She's quiet. She's professional. You want her to come from behind, she comes with a run. She does what you want. That's why I thought she was perfect for this country."

The Hirsch was only Miss Loren's third California race, after running well without winning on both turf and dirt at Hollywood Park. Asked what he thought of his chances against a field last Sunday that included favored Star Parade, 3-year-old ace House of Fortune, and major stakes winners Victory Encounter and Elloluv, the 58-year-old Seglin never missed a beat.

"I always dream very positive," he said. "I thought I was going to win the race. The favorite [Star Parade] has turned out to be a hell of a filly here. But in Argentina, my filly was better."

Better by far. Star Parade, a year younger, was laboring on the undercards at San Ysidro while Miss Loren was in the main events. Her best Argentinean win for owner and breeder Juan Carlos Bago may have come last December in the Group 1 Copa de Plata, a race that appears in the record of two-time Eclipse champion Paseana. Among Paseana's North American victories was the 1994 version of the Hirsch, when it was known as the Chula Vista.

"How about that!" beamed Jon Court, flashing his brightest store-bought smile from atop Miss Loren, as Seglin reached up for a victory handshake.

Going into the Hirsch, Seglin laid out more than one scenario.

"Luis is very thorough about his instructions, about how the race might unfold, and how changes may effect the outcome," Court said later. "Everything came together the way we planned, which was great, because we know it doesn't always work that way."

With half a California season under his belt, the 43-year-old Court walks around acting like a kid in a candy store. A lifetime of riding in the Midwest, from top to bottom, made him ready for the change.

"This is it," Court said. "I'm never leaving."

Court concedes that, after 24 years in the East, there has been a learning curve when it comes to the go-go pace of the California sport. The Hirsch, for instance, commenced with a four-horse speed duel into the first turn on a 22.59-second opening quarter. This is rarely seen east of the Arizona border, and Miss Loren took full advantage with a strong late kick that carried her more than three lengths clear at the end.

"It's pedal to the metal out here, right from the start," Court said. "Because of where I rode most of my life, I'm not necessarily comfortable with it. So I've had to adjust and apply what I know as best I can. I'll still make mistakes - sometimes you're a champion, and sometimes you're a heel - but the trainers out here are adamant about putting their horse in a forward position and let their training show. It's my job to get on with it and not spend too much time laying back, strategizing."

While Court is still getting grooved to West Coast riding, he has already copped the lifestyle. Five days before the Hirsch, Court could be spotted atop a bright yellow longboard off the La Jolla coastline, perfectly at home in the water. He claims to have surfed before, in his childhood at Daytona. But, well, that would be the Atlantic.

"The Atlantic!" Court said, rising to the defense of his native ocean. "Try going out there when there's a hurricane. Of course, the trick is to catch it either before or after the storm comes through. Then it can be a great ride."

Or was he talking about Miss Loren?