08/13/2008 12:00AM

Misty Ocean figures out front in Oaks

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Regardless of the outcome of the race, Misty Ocean will play a major role in Saturday's $350,000 Del Mar Oaks.

Misty Ocean is expected to set the pace, and, judging from her form earlier this summer, it is possible that she could lead throughout the Grade 1 race over 1 1/8 miles on turf. Such a strategy worked in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap at Hollywood Park over 1 1/8 miles on turf on June 7, the same distance as the Del Mar Oaks.

The front-running strategy was not as successful in the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap over a mile on turf on July 26. Misty Ocean set a torrid pace of 21.92 and 45.21 seconds and held on to finish third behind Del Mar Oaks hopeful Storm Mesa. The fractions were something more likely to be seen in a sprint than a route race. Her determination in the final furlong impressed Dan Ward, assistant trainer to Jerry Hollendorfer.

"That was better than her win" in the Honeymoon, Ward said. "And, she broke from the 10 hole."

Joel Rosario has the ride on Misty Ocean in the Del Mar Oaks. He was aboard for her last two starts and was as frustrated as anyone by Misty Ocean's aggressive behavior in the San Clemente.

"He said on the backstretch he had her relaxed, and then she took off again," Ward said.

Misty Ocean will probably get away with a slower pace in the Del Mar Oaks, but she faces a tougher field. The race is led by Storm Mesa; Satan's Circus, who was second in the Grade 1 American Oaks in her U.S. debut last month; the French import Oceane Music; and the four-time stakes winner Lethal Heat.

The Oaks field may include Missit, who also is entered in Friday's $80,000 Sandy Blue Handicap.

Trained by Ben Cecil, Missit is winless in three starts since the Grade 2 Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita in her U.S. debut in April. She was fourth in the San Clemente, finishing 1 1/2 lengths behind Storm Mesa.

Cecil said he is leaning toward starting Missit in the Del Mar Oaks.

"I'll change tactics," he said. "We'll put blinkers on her. She tends to be hesitant. We'll be a little more off the pace."

Track alters Polytrack maintenance

Del Mar has altered the maintenance schedule of its Polytrack synthetic main track to reduce daily watering, according to director of racing Tom Robbins.

Robbins said that a program was enacted last weekend to water the track three times a day instead of five times a day in an effort to make the track less firm. Some trainers have expressed concern that the track is too hard, resulting in incidents of bruised feet - and more severe injuries.

"Some trainers with a lot of horses say it's good, others have problems," Robbins said. "We're hoping to address this without making too much of a dramatic change."

Robbins said that water is being applied to the track 90 minutes before first post, instead of approximately 30 to 40 minutes before first post. The last application is done after the second race.

"We want the track to be consistent through the day," he said.

According to a notice shown on closed-circuit televisions before the first race Wednesday, the track was watered four times between the end of training and first post Wednesday. The track underwent a weekly maintenance program Tuesday to harrow and roto-till the surface to a depth of six inches.

Del Mar began watering the track this year after complaints arose last year when the course was not watered. In 2007, trainers complained that the course produced quick times in the mornings and slow times during the afternoon. Times have been considerably quicker this year.

Tactful aims to improve off debut

Tactful put on quite a show before he finished third in his career debut here July 16, the opening day of the meeting. First, he unseated jockey Garrett Gomez on the way to the track. Then, during the warm-up, "he had a couple of breezes," trainer Carla Gaines said.

Once the actual race began, Tactful was not through with his antics. He stumbled shortly after the start, still made the lead, but faded to finish third as the 2-1 favorite.

"It was an experimental situation," Gaines said.

Friday, Tactful returns in a $50,000 maiden race for California-breds over 5 1/2 furlongs, which he will be favored to win. Gaines is optimistic about his chances, but wants the colt to show less spirited behavior before post time.

"He's just sort of a goof," she said. "If he minds his manners," he can win.

Owned by Harris Farms, Tactful is part of a 12-horse field in the day's fifth race. Several of the entrants have started, but few ran well.

Trainers Alexis Barba and Mike Puype have first-time starters.

Barba starts Beauteous Maximus, who was bought privately last March.

"He was one of those pretty boys you hope you didn't buy for his looks," Barba said. "He's got some speed."

Beauteous Maximus worked three furlongs in 35.60 seconds Wednesday.

Puype starts His Boy Elroy, who may not be ready for his best effort. By Decarchy, His Boy Elroy breaks from the outside.

"I need to run him," Puype said. "He doesn't have a lot of speed, so the 12-horse doesn't really matter."

Bejarano, Espinoza fined for dispute

Jockeys Rafael Bejarano and Victor Espinoza have been fined $500 each by Del Mar stewards for an altercation in the jockey's room in the hour after Sunday's Best Pal Stakes.

Bejarano and Espinoza were cited for disorderly conduct.

Kelly Leak, ridden by Espinoza, finished a nose in front of Azul Leon, ridden by Bejarano, in the race for 2-year-olds over 6 1/2 furlongs. After an inquiry, the stewards ruled that Kelly Leak interfered with Azul Leon in the stretch. Kelly Leak was demoted to fourth.

Espinoza received a three-day suspension for causing interference. The suspension begins Monday and runs through Thursday.