08/28/2003 12:00AM

Next Bandit goes for big bucks


This weekend, such juvenile phenoms as Chapel Royal and Birdstone will do battle in the $200,000 Hopeful at Saratoga, and highly regarded West Coast-based fillies Halfbridled and Victory U. S. A. clash in the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante. Meanwhile, a group of far less renowned 2-year-olds will be chasing equally big money in a pair of $200,000 stakes on Saturday's program at Delaware Park.

Next Bandit, already a stakes winner in Texas and Illinois, heads a group of seven colts and geldings in the NATC Futurity, while trainer Todd Pletcher ships in Hermione's Magic from Saratoga for the NATC Sorority.

Both races, co-sponsored by the National Association of Two-year-old Consignors and Delaware Park, are at six furlongs and restricted to horses who have passed through a sales ring in 2003.

Next Bandit, trained by Bret Calhoun, has won 3 of 4 starts, including the five-furlong TTA Sales Futurity at Lone Star Park with an 86 Beyer Speed Figure and the 5 1/2-furlong Honest Pleasure at Arlington Park. He will be making his first start in two months.

Based on Beyers, the top threat to Next Bandit looks like Tabacchi, an easy winner of his career debut going five furlongs at Monmouth Park. He earned a 76 Beyer for that effort and will be formidable if he moves forward, as many horses do, in his second start.

D C's Thunder and Inform also won maiden races in their last starts. D C's Thunder wired maidens by 10 1/4 lengths in the slop at Delaware and was awarded a 68 Beyer. Inform got a 56 for his 5 1/4-length romp at Philadelphia Park.

The 85 Beyer Hermione's Magic earned in her career debut at Belmont Park two months ago is by far the best figure among the eight fillies in the Sorority. In her only other start, Hermione's Magic set the pace in the Grade 2 Schuylerville on opening day at Saratoga, only to be overtaken by her stablemate Ashado while weakening to finish third.

Her chief rival appears to be Wage a Penny, who has three wins and two seconds in five starts. Two of those victories came on turf, however. In her most recent race, Wage a Penny finished a distant second in the Junior Champion going a mile at Monmouth.

Martin, Lopez among new riders

Delaware's already solid jockey colony has gotten even stronger with the recent addition of Eddie Martin Jr. and James Lopez.

Martin, 40, intends to ride at Delaware through the end of the meet in November after finishing second in the recently concluded season at Lone Star Park with 85 wins. Last year, he was the leading rider at Fair Grounds, and he finished 11th in his first season at Delaware with 39 wins, 51 seconds, and 59 thirds in 398 mounts.

Lopez, 25, had most recently been riding at Ellis Park in Kentucky. Since 1998, he has won riding titles at Oaklawn Park, Turfway Park, and Louisiana Downs.

Lopez intends to ride at Delaware, move his tack to Maryland for the winter, and return to Delaware next spring. He and his wife, Kelli, are expecting their first child.

* Trainer Scott Lake is getting close to the record he just missed last season. Coming into Saturday's program, Lake has saddled 77 winners, 10 shy of the track-record 87 set by Tim Ritchey in 2001. Last year, Lake finished with 84 winners at the meet.

* Distinct Vision erased a 23-year-old track record for a mile and 70 yards when he drew off to win an optional claiming race Monday. A 3-year-old gelding ridden by Ramon Dominguez for trainer Mike Pino, Distinct Vision covered the distance in 1:39.20. The old record of 1:39.40 was set by St. Bonaventure on June 15, 1970.

* Delaware will reopen its turf course for the first time in nearly four weeks on Saturday, when a pair of grass races are scheduled. The last turf race was Aug. 3.