08/16/2004 12:00AM

Next step for Western Hemisphere

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Western Hemisphere will be part of a strong field for Saturday's $300,000 Del Mar Oaks.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Western Hemisphere, who won the Fleet Treat Stakes for California-bred fillies last month and was stakes-placed on turf at Hollywood Park in June, will attempt to win her first graded stakes in Saturday's $300,000 Del Mar Oaks.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Western Hemisphere will face a strong field that includes Ticker Tape, the upset winner of the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park on July 3; Sweet Win, the winner of the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap here on July 31; and Seducer's Song, the winner of the Lake George Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 2.

The field will have a safety limit of 10 starters because of the narrow turf course and could oversubscribe. Of the 16 nominations, 12 are considered candidates, including Agata, Alphabet Kisses, Amorama, John's Kinda Girl, Potion, Red Top, Sagitta Ra, and Shake Off.

Western Hemisphere was second by a nose in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on June 5, the same distance as the Del Mar Oaks. In the American Oaks over 1 1/4 miles, Western Hemisphere led until early stretch and faded to finish fourth. She won the seven-furlong Fleet Treat by two lengths on July 24.

Baffert will not start Victory U.S.A., who finished third in the San Clemente Handicap in her turf debut.

"She came out with a heel bruise, and I don't want to run her back on the turf," Baffert said.

Roman Ruler may head east

Roman Ruler, the dazzling winner of Sunday's Best Pal Stakes, might bypass the closing-day Del Mar Futurity and head back east in search of a two-turn race, his trainer, Baffert, said Monday morning.

The Del Mar Futurity, which Baffert has won seven times in the last eight years, is at seven furlongs. The races at Belmont Park this fall are also around one turn. The most logical alternative for Roman Ruler would seem to be next month's Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park, a two-turn race that Vindication, also a Baffert trainee, used as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile during his championship 2-year-old campaign in 2002.

"I'd like to get a two-turn race into him," Baffert said. "Seven-eighths, I know he can do that. I want to spread his races out. He's a good one. I had trouble sleeping last night. I was too excited. It's nice to have a horse like that. He's a pretty special one."

Hess impressed by Roman Ruler

Trainer Bob Hess Jr. watched Sunday's Best Pal stakes with a touch of dread.

Hess trains Chandtrue, the unbeaten 2-year-old who passed the Best Pal Stakes in favor of the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 8. After Roman Ruler won the Best Pal by seven lengths, Hess said he knew that Chandtrue will have a stern test in the seven-furlong Futurity if Roman Ruler runs in that race.

"He's a freak," Hess said of Roman Ruler. "Fog City deserves a good horse."

Roman Ruler is owned by the Fog City stable of Bill Bianco and David Shimmon. Hess trained for Fog City until last year.

Both Chandtrue and Roman Ruler are unbeaten. Roman Ruler was supposed to challenge Chandtrue in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship on July 17, but did not start because of a foot problem. Chandtrue did not start in the Best Pal because Hess wants to focus on the Del Mar Futurity.

Is Blackdoun Del Mar Derby-bound?

Julio Canani can't seem to make up his mind when it comes Blackdoun, the 3-year-old French import who remained unbeaten in this country after Saturday's La Jolla Handicap.

After Blackdoun won a division of the Oceanside Stakes on July 21, Canani said he might pass the La Jolla Handicap in favor of the $400,000 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 6.

"I wasn't going to run in the La Jolla, but after the second or third day after his last race I had to send him to the track," he said.

After Blackdoun's win last weekend, Canani said he wondered whether Blackdoun was good enough to win the Del Mar Derby - or was he just kidding?

"If he's coming to the Del Mar Derby in good shape, he'll win," Canani said.

On Sunday, Canani, breaking into a sly grin, said, "My horse is just a horse."

Canani has been in this position before. In 1998, Ladies Din won the Oceanside and La Jolla before completing the triple in the Del Mar Derby. "That's history," Canani said. "Ladies Din was a super horse."

The ranks of Del Mar Derby contenders will swell in coming weeks. Imperialism, third in the Kentucky Derby, is being considered for the Del Mar Derby. He worked six furlongs in 1:15.20 on dirt Monday. The race is on the schedule of Fast and Furious, a striking stakes winner from France who is now trained by Ron McAnally.

Meet figures up and down so far

Del Mar reached the halfway point of the summer meeting Saturday with attendance figures showing an improvement over last year and on-track handle showing a slight decline. All-sources handle has improved, according to chief financial officer Michael Ernst.

Through Saturday, the 22nd day of the 43-day meeting, the average all-sources handle was $12.8 million, a gain of 1 percent over the corresponding days in 2003. Last year, the meeting averaged a record $13.2 million. "We're real thrilled about that because last year was so strong," Ernst said.

The track has yet to host some of its biggest days, such as Sunday's Pacific Classic program and Labor Day weekend.

Ontrack attendance has grown 1.5 percent to 18,219. The ontrack average handle has declined 1 percent, to $2.412 million. Betting through telephone and internet sources has grown 27.2 percent to approximately $875,000 a day.

Ernst said Del Mar projected 15 percent growth for telephone and internet betting this year.

The meeting concludes Sept. 8.

Rider Kerwin John suspended for five days

Jockey Kerwin John has been given a five-day suspension for his ride on Gentlestone in Saturday's fifth race. Gentlestone drifted out in the stretch of a turf race and was disqualified from fifth to ninth. The Del Mar stewards cited John for failing to maintain a straight course in the stretch. The suspension begins Friday and runs through Aug. 25.

* Jockey Kent Desormeaux took off his two mounts Monday, complaining of body soreness following Sunday's accident in which his mount, Wetherly, broke down in the Best Pal.

* Daunting worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds Monday morning for trainer Mark Glatt, who will send Daunting to Emerald Downs for Sunday's Longacres Mile. Mick Ruis will head north for the mount.

* Also working Monday was Sorrento Stakes winner Inspiring, who tuned up for the Aug. 28 Del Mar Debutante with a swift half-mile work in 46.20 seconds, the best time of 38 at the distance. A 2-year-old filly, Inspiring is trained by Baffert.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman