08/15/2005 11:00PM

Mullins likes Choctaw's chances

Choctaw Nation, with exercise rider Amy Mullins, enters the Pacific Classic in better shape now than last year.

DEL MAR, Calif. - The handicap division in California has been much maligned this year, but the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday at Del Mar is shaping up as a fascinating race, featuring horses who in their last start captured the Hollywood Gold Cup, Swaps Stakes, Washington Park Handicap, and San Diego Handicap.

Choctaw Nation, the San Diego Handicap winner, was fourth in this race one year ago, but his trainer, Jeff Mullins, has expressed confidence for the past month that Choctaw Nation can do better this time around. And after Choctaw Nation completed his serious training on Tuesday morning with a five-furlong drill in 1:00.80, Mullins continued to be bullish.

"He's doing much better compared to last year," Mullins said. "He had a quarter crack last year. We haven't had any problems with it this year. And he had a pretty tall mountain to climb last year. He had a steady campaign, and then he had to step into the ring with Tyson for his last fight."

Last year, Choctaw Nation ascended the class ladder from a maiden claimer to the San Diego Handicap in just five months, then in the Pacific Classic had to take on Pleasantly Perfect, who had won the Dubai World Cup. Choctaw Nation finished third in this year's Dubai World Cup, then was a dull fifth in the Californian at Hollywood Park before his repeat victory in the San Diego.

Pacific Classic probable Congrats, who was third in the Hollywood Gold Cup in his last start, also worked Tuesday and was timed in 1:00.60 for five furlongs.

Lava Man, the Gold Cup winner, figures to be the favorite in the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic. Surf Cat, a 3-year-old who won the Swaps, should also get significant support. Under the weight-for-age conditions of the race, Surf Cat carries 117 pounds, seven fewer than Choctaw Nation and Lava Man. The mare Island Fashion will carry 119 pounds if she runs.

Perfect Drift, who finished second to Pleasantly Perfect in last year's Pacific Classic, arrived at Del Mar on Monday afternoon after a flight from Kentucky. His trainer, Murray Johnson, merely walked Perfect Drift on Tuesday. He said Perfect Drift was to return to the track on Wednesday. Perfect Drift won the Washington Park Handicap in his last start.

Others expected for the Pacific Classic are Ace Blue, Borrego, Musique Toujours, Super Frolic, and possibly Oceanus.

Super Frolic was also nominated to the Grade 2, $300,000 Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap at seven furlongs, which is also scheduled for Sunday. He was recently acquired by owner Ro Parra and transferred to trainer Vladimir Cerin in a transaction that was spearheaded by Jerry Brown of Thoro-Graph.

"On figures, he's one of the best four horses in the race," Brown said Tuesday from his office in New York.

There will be an early first post on Sunday of 1 p.m., with gates opening at 11 a.m.

Del Mar clockers see a ghost

Gotaghostofachance, who will make his first start since September in the O'Brien, worked a half-mile in 47.80 seconds Tuesday for trainer Roger Stein, who watched the drill from the grandstand box seats.

"He makes me really nervous," Stein said. "He's just an absolute freak.

"He's not like horses I have. I have good horses, but not like him."

Gotaghostofachance has won 4 of 8 starts, including last year's Lamplighter at Monmouth. He was second to Pomeroy in last year's Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup at Monmouth.

The O'Brien is also expected to include Bear in the Woods, Beau Soleil, Imperialism, McCann's Mojave, Minister Eric, Pt's Grey Eagle, Taste of Paradise, Unfurl the Flag, and possibly Hasty Kris.

"If the front-liners go, he won't go," said John Sadler, the trainer of Hasty Kris.

Unfurl the Flag, who won the Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 3, is the probable favorite. He was assigned top weight of 119 pounds, two more than Imperialism and McCann's Mojave.

Beau Soleil sped five furlongs in 57.40 seconds on Tuesday morning at Del Mar, which was the fastest of 28 works at the distance.

Sorenson fractures collarbone

Jockey Danny Sorenson fractured his collarbone in a freak accident in Monday's first race.

Sorenson's mount, Perfect Judgment, had led early during the 5 1/2-furlong race for $10,000 claimers, but began to fade at the top of the stretch. While racing in the clear at midstretch, Perfect Judgment suddenly fell, pitching Sorenson, 47, onto the dirt.

Perfect Judgment got up and galloped away, seemingly uninjured, but Sorenson had to be removed from the track in an ambulance. A CAT-scan was performed on Sorenson at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, but no damage was found to his neck or spine.

Plungers lose, create big show prices

The entry of Excess Taxes and Excess Temptation, which comprised two of the seven runners in the race, looked so strong in Monday's featured seventh race allowance that it was sent off at 1-5, and attracted $134,301 of the $150,993 show pool.

But when neither managed to finish in the top three, it caused inflated show prices on the first three finishers. Slide Home, who won, paid $14.80 to win, $8.40 to place, and $19.60 to show. Maximum Heat, who finished second, paid $14.60 to place and $25.80 to show. Third-place finisher Martinblestme paid $32 to show. A $2 show bet on the five runners who were not part of the entry, an investment of $10, returned $77.40.

Bill Navarro, Del Mar's director of mutuels, said a bet of $35,000 to show on the entry was placed through TVG, and another $20,000 show bet came through Suffolk Downs.

Dream of Summer to Ellis Park

Dream of Summer's name was conspicuous by its absence from the nominees to Friday's Grade 3, $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap for older fillies and mares, considering she won the race last year.

But trainer Juan Garcia said he did not want to shorten up Dream of Summer to 6 1/2 furlongs now that she has been racing around two turns, so he instead is sending her to Ellis Park for the Grade 3, $150,000 Gardenia Handicap at one mile on Saturday.

"I want to run her long," Garcia said. "If she runs short, you have to ask her too much. I want to keep her long for now."

* Garrett Gomez won one race on Monday to maintain his narrow lead in the jockey standings. He has 27 wins, one more than Victor Espinoza and two more than Patrick Valenzuela. Mullins won one race Monday to break a deadlock atop the trainer standings. Mullins has 13 wins, Bob Baffert 12.

* A.P. Warrior, who was scratched from Sunday's Best Pal Stakes when he dumped Gomez in the post parade and ran off, will come back in either the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, or the Del Mar Futurity, trainer Eoin Harty said.

* The 1946 Remington Rand typewriter used by Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Jim Murray will be on display at Del Mar on Saturday. Murray, who died seven years ago, wrote his final column on the 1998 Pacific Classic victory of Free House. His typewriter was recently acquired at an auction by Los Angeles real estate executive Steve Soboroff, who said proceeds from a tour of the typewriter will be donated to the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, which funds scholarships for college journalism students.