08/14/2002 12:00AM

One small step before big leap

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DEL MAR, Calif. - A second-place finish by Dream Machine in the Oceanside Stakes on July 24 has trainer Julio Canani hoping to use Friday's $67,000 Relaunch Stakes at Del Mar as a springboard to the Del Mar Derby on Sept. 8.

Dream Machine was beaten a length in a division of the one-mile Oceanside Stakes, his first start since arriving from France in early summer.

Canani had Dream Machine nominated for Saturday's $150,000 La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds, but has opted for the Relaunch, which is restricted to nonwinners of three races.

In the one-mile Relaunch, Dream Machine figures to be favored against seven others, including Holdthehelm and Sunkosi, who were unplaced in divisions of the Oceanside, and recent allowance race winners Dell Place and Ridley.

Canani won the Del Mar Derby in 1998 and 1999 with Ladies Din and Val Royal, both French imports who won major races as 3-year-olds.

Dream Machine had modest form in France. His only victory came in an allowance in April, his eighth start. He was later unplaced in two minor handicaps at major tracks against large fields. Such races feature competitive fields, and the form often translates into success in California.

Dream Machine was relatively ignored in the Oceanside Stakes.

After a slow break, Dream Machine was last of eight on the final turn. Ridden by Garrett Gomez, Dream Machine rallied wide on the final turn but could not catch True Phenomenon, losing by a length. But the loss, and subsequent workouts, have left Canani encouraged.

"He ran great," Canani said. "I love the way he's working. If he runs good, we'll look at the derby."

In the Relaunch, Corey Nakatani will ride Dream Machine. There should be plenty of pace to chase. Dell Place, who making his California debut, and World Light have shown speed in recent starts. Sunkosi, fourth in a division of the Oceanside Stakes, races near the pace.

Dell Place won an allowance race by three lengths on June 23, his second victory on turf. Last September, he won a maiden race at Kentucky Downs.

World Light, second in the Alydar Stakes at Hollywood Park on May 23, is making his turf debut for trainer David Hofmans.

Holdthehelm has run well on turf. Fifth in the division of the Oceanside that included Dream Machine, Holdthehelm was third in the restricted Pinjara Stakes last year and a close fifth in the Baldwin Stakes on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita in February.

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