08/25/2003 11:00PM

Mullins making a good run

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Through the first five weeks of the Del Mar meet, Jeff Mullins has run half as many horses as Bob Baffert, but has won at such a high rate that he has been able to stay within hailing distance of Del Mar’s perennial training champ.

Mullins has won with 11 of 37 starters, a strike rate of 30 percent. He trails Baffert - who has been this track’s leading trainer for six straight seasons - by just four wins heading into the final 13 days of the season.

Mullins has a chance to cut further into Baffert’s lead on Thursday. He has runners in three of the eight races, including a pair - Garden in the Rain and Top Spinner - in the day’s featured seventh race, a 1 1/16-mile grass race for older fillies and mares.

Of the six horses entered in the race, half are in for the nonwinners-of-three allowance conditions, the other half - including Mullins’s pair - for the $100,000 claiming price. Because of separate ownership, Mullins’s runners are not coupled in the wagering.

The pint-sized Garden in the Rain, who probably doesn’t weigh 900 pounds, is making her first start in three months. She was freshened after beating just one horse on soft turf in the WinStar Distaff Handicap at Lone Star Park in May. Garden in the Rain was claimed for $50,000 by Mullins last October. Since then, she has won twice, and narrowly lost a pair of Grade 2 stakes races last winter at Santa Anita.

“She came back from that trip to Texas zapped,” Mullins said. “She was tired. She’s been working really well. I’ve wanted to run her here. I’ve just been looking for a spot.”

Top Spinner is a recent acquisition for Mullins. He claimed Top Spinner for $62,500 on behalf of owner Bob Bone on July 3. In her lone start for them, at Del Mar on Aug. 8, she closed furiously to win a second-level allowance race, also at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

“This is the most logical spot to run her,” Mullins said.

Carbon Copy, an unlucky loser in a similar spot here on July 31, will likely vie with Garden in the Rain for favoritism. Carbon Copy stalked the pace and then narrowly lost to Consignada while finishing two lengths in front of Adalgisa, who is also returning in Thursday’s race. Carbon Copy is making her third start since returning from a 13-month layoff.

Adalgisa has finished in the money in all three of her starts at Del Mar, but she appeared to have no excuse when outfinished by Carbon Copy on July 31.