05/28/2003 11:00PM

O'Neill stable gets off to fast start


ARCADIA, Calif. - Doug O'Neill admits he will be at a loss of sorts on Saturday afternoon with only one runner at Hollywood Park.

"I love the action in the afternoons," he said Thursday morning. "I'll have to slow down on the caffeine that day."

Since the Hollywood Park meeting began, O'Neill's stable has not had many slow moments. Through Monday, he led all trainers with 19 winners, exceeding his total from the 2002 spring-summer meeting with less than half of the season completed.

O'Neill won the training title at the fall meeting here last year and is attempting to score his first title in a spring-summer meeting. Through Monday, he had a nine-win lead on John Sadler and Bob Baffert.

The success has not been a surprise to O'Neill, 35, who has seen his stable double to 60 members in the last year.

"We were excited because we had a lot of horses that were ready for the meeting," he said. "And, it's our home track. The races have set up good and we've been really fortunate."

The everyday horses have carried the stable since the meeting opened in late April, but the stakes horses will be active in coming weeks.

Sky Jack, winner of the 2002 Hollywood Gold Cup, is nearing a comeback in an allowance race following knee surgery last September. "If that works, we can allow ourselves to dream," O'Neill said, thinking of the Gold Cup on July 13.

For the Gold Cup, O'Neill already has Fleetstreet Dancer, the runner-up in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap on May 10.

Cee's Elegance, the winner of the Cat's Cradle Stakes last November, will start in the Desert Stormer Handicap on June 7. Avanzado, who won the Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita in January, is being pointed for the $300,000 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap over seven furlongs on July 5.

Menacing Dennis, second in the 2002 Snow Chief Stakes, is a new member of the stable and will start in an allowance race in coming weeks. Excessivepleasure, the winner of the WinStar Derby at Sunland Park in March and eighth in Monday's Laz Barerra Stakes, is being pointed for the $300,000 Carry Back Stakes over six furlongs at Calder on July 12.

O'Neill said the success of Excessivepleasure at Sunland Park and Avanzado's runner-up finish in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen helped him find new clients. "They really exposed me to people that I don't think knew who I was," he said.

On Saturday, O'Neill starts Leave Us Leap in the seventh race, a sprint over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf for $35,000 to $40,000 claimers. In his last start, Leave Us Leap was fourth on May 10 while racing wide.

"He had no pace to run at," O'Neill said. "The race before, he had a horrendous trip. We're putting blinkers on and shortening him up."

O'Neill will have a busier day Sunday. Among his starters are Aclevershadeofjade and Montana Banana, in the $75,000 Manhattan Beach Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf. Aclevershadeofjade won a maiden race for California-bred fillies at Santa Anita on March 16, but she was eighth in the $200,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-old Cal-breds on April 26. "She strides likes a horse that routes, but mentally she wants to go one turn," he said.

Such horses could carry the stable in the second half of the meeting and lead to another milestone for O'Neill.

Del Mar to run turf sprints

Del Mar will run turf sprints regularly for the first time in its history during the upcoming summer meet, from July 23 to Sept. 10.

Races over five furlongs will be offered, including two overnight stakes, according to racing secretary Tom Robbins. Most of the races will be for allowance-class horses and maiden special weights.

"It will be a very limited basis," Robbins said. "I don't want to disrupt the dirt sprint program."

The overnight stakes for turf sprinters will be the $75,000 Daisycutter Handicap for fillies and mares in the first few weeks of the meeting, and the $75,000 Green Flash Handicap for 3-year-olds and up in the middle of the meeting. Robbins did not specify the exact dates of the stakes.

The decision to include turf sprints in the racing program at Del Mar creates year-round turf sprints in Southern California. Santa Anita offers turf sprints over about 6 1/2 furlongs on its famous hillside turf course. Hollywood Park runs turf sprints over 5 1/2 furlongs.

"There have been some horses that haven't been able to run here," Robbins said. "We're trying to come up with something to support our six-day weeks."

Robbins said fields will be limited to 10 starters when turf rails are at the normal position. When rails are at the temporary position 7 feet out, there will be a safety limit of eight starters.

Del Mar last ran a turf sprint in 1994, when Soviet Problem beat Mamselle Bebette in a match race over five furlongs in 56.40 seconds. Soviet Problem later finished second in the 1994 Breeders' Cup Sprint.

* Alpenfest, unbeaten in two starts including the Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes on May 18, will not start in the $75,000 Haggin Stakes on June 21. Trainer Mike Harrington said he is likely to wait for the $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship over six furlongs on July 19, the closing weekend of the meeting.

* Buffythecenterfold, the winner of the Grade 3 Railbird Stakes May 4, worked six furlongs in 1:15 at Santa Anita on Thursday. She is being pointed for the $200,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks over 1 1/16 miles on June 14, trainer Mel Stute said.