08/15/2002 11:00PM

Mellow Fellow is Mister Outside


PHOENIX - When is it good to be on the outside looking in? When you're top sprinter Mellow Fellow.

In Sunday's Grade 2 Pat O'Brien at seven furlongs at Del Mar, Mellow Fellow wants to be outside of horses where he can have clear sailing to do his best running. With an inside trip he will be like a shopper trying to navigate his way through a mall the weekend before Christmas - going nowhere fast.

Mellow Fellow had the rail in the Bing Crosby early in the meet, and while unable to really threaten winner Disturbingthepeace it's conceivable he was compromised by the inside trip. He goes for revenge Sunday, but things need to break his way. Friday's draw news was reasonable: He avoided the rail, and will start from gate 3 in a field of six.

Trainer Bill Spawr, who trains Mellow Fellow for Sid and Jenny Craig, is expecting a big effort. He has one reservation, though. "He won't run from the rail. He won't extend himself from there."

Since being purchased by the Craigs, Mellow Fellow has finished third twice, in the Triple Bend and the Bing Crosby, both times finishing behind Disturbingthepeace, who will start just outside him Sunday. Mellow Fellow had won his six previous starts in Northern California, including three stakes under Russell Baze. In one of those efforts he left eventual Met Mile winner Swept Overboard in his wake.

"We couldn't get him off the rail last time," Spawr said of the Bing Crosby. "When we bought him, Russell Baze called and said he would like to ride him. He said, 'But no matter who rides, make sure he's outside.' "

If Mellow Fellow is inside, things look dire. And even if he gets a good trip, it will be tough for him to beat Disturbingthepeace. For the past couple of years the sprint division out west has been very orderly. Kona Gold, Swept Overboard, Caller One - the pecking order was pretty well established. But now Disturbingthepeace has rattled off five straight wins. He looks to be the favorite, and while he has won on the lead trainer Darrell Vienna says he is hardly a one-trick pony.

"I don't know why people think he has to be on the front end," he said. "He sure doesn't. He's not a horse that you have to find a special kind of race for. I can see him sitting anywhere in the race."

Actually, aside from the Triple Bend Handicap, which he led nearly all the way, his running style has been to stalk the leaders and then pounce. Disturbingthepeace began his five-race streak back at Santa Anita in an allowance March 20. He followed that up with wins in another allowance at Santa Anita and an optional claiming race at Hollywood before launching his graded-stakes efforts.

But an outside draw and seven furlongs give Mellow Fellow a chance to disturb the new peace in the sprint division out west.

Iselin Handicap

First Lieutenant ran second to Broken Vow in last year's Iselin Handicap at Monmouth, a race he had been pointed to the entire summer. After running twice more last year, First Lieutenant was laid up with minor ailments, which have plagued him throughout his career.

When he resurfaced this year in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth this July 27, he crossed the wire first by 1 1/2 lengths, only to be disqualified to third for interference. Although the disqualification kept him from getting a stakes win, trainer Phil Oliver said it may have been his best race. And it sets him up perfectly for another crack at the Iselin Sunday.

"He may have run better speed figures in the past," Oliver said, "but coming off a layoff, it was probably his best race."

Last year, Oliver said, it took a very good horse, Broken Vow, at his best to beat First Lieutenant in the Iselin. "I hope we don't run into the same type of horse again," he said.

Well, he might. The classy Include is working up a storm. He has run just twice this year - he won a nine-length laugher in the Jennings at Pimlico in April, then was a good third to big winner Macho Uno in the Massachussetts Handicap. Reports from trainer Bud Delp's camp are that the horse is ready.

B6ut First Lieutenant gets weight, could easily improve off his Salvator Mile run, and catches Include off the bench. And while Delp would surely love to win this race, you can bet he wants to save a little something for the Breeders' Cup in the fall. As Horatio Luro so aptly put it, don't squeeze the lemon dry.