09/02/2004 11:00PM

Mullins, O'Neill fire two each


DEL MAR, Calif. - It's come down to two. Jeff Mullins and Doug O'Neill are locked in a pitched battle to unseat Bob Baffert as the new training champ at Del Mar. Entering Friday's card, O'Neill led Mullins, 24-23, with Baffert another six back with 17.

For the first time since 1996, a name other than Baffert will be atop the standings when the meet ends Wednesday. A pivotal race in the battle between O'Neill and Mullins might be Sunday's $125,000 Solana Beach Handicap, in which both trainers will send out two runners.

O'Neill has , who should be one of the longest shots. Mullins counters with Test the Waters, who is seeking her third straight victory, and Jazz Ya, the probable pacesetter. Four others are entered in the Solana Beach, a one-mile grass race for California-bred fillies and mares.

Mullins has won consecutive training titles at the Hollywood Park fall meeting, Santa Anita, and Hollywood's summer meeting. He said he believes O'Neill will have more bullets to fire in the final days of the meet.

"It would be fun to win, but I don't think we can spot enough horses in the right places," Mullins said.

O'Neill said winning the Del Mar title would be "such a huge honor."

"When you talk about some of the great trainers who have won the title, to be on that page would be a credit to everyone at the barn," he said. "To win would be incredible."

Cyber Slew, O'Neill's best chance in the Solana Beach, has done most of her racing on dirt and around one turn.

"The purses for Cal-bred races are so good that you have to experiment," O'Neill said. "She's relaxed a lot better in her races the last 12 months. Once she was only a sprinter, but now she can relax around the first turn and go punch it in on the second turn."

might be Mullins's best chance. She was idle for two years, needed a comeback race at Santa Anita, and has won two straight since then.

Tucked Away, fifth in the Clement Hirsch Handicap on Aug. 8, has been facing better company, but her form on turf is suspect.

Shalini was third in the Osunitas Handicap, her best performance in three starts since returning from a six-month layoff.