08/23/2005 11:00PM

Paasch has 2 shots at Grade 1


DEL MAR, Calif. - Horse owner Charlie Cono and trainer Christopher Paasch went to the Florida 2-year-olds in training sales this year, searching for fillies that could be effective in sprints and routes.

They bought two promising fillies - Diplomat Lady and Mystery Girl. Their career paths converge in Saturday's $250,000 Del Mar Debutante at seven furlongs.

For Paasch, 49, it is a rare chance to start two horses in a Grade 1 race. He has yet to win at that level, but would love to do so for Cono, who owns all 15 of the horses that Paasch has in training.

"I'd like to see his silks painted in the paddock," said Paasch.

Three lawn jockeys are painted each year to commemorate the winning owners of the Del Mar Futurity, Debutante, and Pacific Classic.

Mystery Girl may be their best chance. Third in the Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 2, Mystery Girl won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race by four lengths on July 23 in her third career start.

"She's the speed, and she showed it in her last race," Paasch said. "We're hoping that she can carry that for seven furlongs and Diplomat Lady can get involved enough that she can make up the ground."

Diplomat Lady won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race by a nose on June 15 and returned to finish fourth in the Grade 3 Sorrento Stakes on Aug. 6. She fought for the lead and faded through the stretch.

"I think Diplomat Lady is still as promising as I thought she was, but she hasn't shown me that yet," Paasch said. "I don't think we've seen the best from her."

Paasch said Diplomat Lady will wear blinkers for the first time.

The Debutante will have a large field, including the stakes winners Bully Bones (Sorrento), Indian Breeze (Landaluce), and River's Prayer (Cinderella). Other probable starters are Calamity June, Golden Silk, Miss Norman, Slick Road, and Wild Fit.

Nakatani, Valenzuela fined for fight

Jockeys Corey Nakatani and Patrick Valenzuela each were fined $500 on Wednesday for their roles in a fight in the jockeys' room at Del Mar on Monday.

Nakatani and Valenzuela were involved in an altercation after Monday's second race. Valenzuela had finished last of five aboard Grafton in the one-mile turf race. When he returned to the jockeys' room, he was criticized by Nakatani and other riders for not providing room for Cheiron in early stretch.

Valenzuela and Nakatani, who did not ride the race, exchanged words before the dispute escalated, according to witnesses.

Jockey Rene Douglas, who rode Cheiron, was given a three-day suspension for causing interference. Cheiron was disqualified from fourth and placed last, behind Grafton.

In a separate incident, jockey David Flores received a three-day suspension for causing interference in Monday's fourth race. Flores rode Rosy Lea, who was demoted from third to seventh for lugging in late in the one-mile turf race.

The suspensions will begin Monday and continue through Thursday.

Solis aboard Sarafan for Handicap

Sarafan will be ridden by Alex Solis when he makes the 49th start of his career in Sunday's $250,000 Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on turf.

The Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap will be the first time that Solis has ridden Sarafan since the 8-year-old gelding arrived from England in early 2001.

Second by a neck in the 2004 Del Mar Handicap, Sarafan is one of 10 probable starters for Sunday's race, which include Always First, Continental Red, Continuously, Exterior, Habaneros, Laura's Lucky Boy, Leprechaun Kid, Outta Here, and Runaway Dancer.

Wednesday, Sarafan worked six furlongs in 1:16.60.

Fast and Furious, a stakes winner in France last year, will miss the Del Mar Handicap because of a quarter crack, trainer Ron McAnally confirmed on Wednesday.

Options open for St Averil

St Averil, one of the leading 3-year-olds from the Kentucky Derby prep races of 2004, may have found a new home on turf. His victory in a third-level allowance race on Monday, his first start on grass, has trainer Rafael Becerra mulling several options for the Saint Ballado colt.

"There's really nothing left for him here," Becerra said at his Del Mar barn, "so we'll look at something at Oak Tree or Bay Meadows. He ran pretty good on the turf. I'd like to keep him on it."

St Averil was second to Lion Heart in the Hollywood Futurity in 2003, and in 2004 won the Santa Catalina Stakes and finished second in the San Felipe Stakes. But problems with his front feet subsequently compromised his form. He beat one horse in the Santa Anita Derby, then was withdrawn from the Kentucky Derby after shipping to Churchill Downs.

"His feet are getting good," Becerra said. "This race was the first time I ran him in normal shoes, not glue-ons. He ran a good race. He never gave up."

Officials: Big-day purse boost works

Count Del Mar racing officials Rick Hammerle and Tom Robbins among those who believe that boosting purses for a track's big day pays dividends. Sunday's Pacific Classic card, like those for the American Oaks at Hollywood Park and the Santa Anita Handicap, had purses that were well above normal for each class level.

That, Hammerle and Robbins believe, begat bigger fields, which in turn helped drive Del Mar to a record one-day mutuel handle of more than $24 million.

"It's a concept to boost the biggest days," Robbins said.

"Not only are the purses better, but the quality is better," said Hammerle, who also works at Santa Anita. "You get quality and quantity, and the bettors responded. This was the third day of a three-track experiment, and it worked at all three tracks."

The money for the purse increases comes from the budget of the California Marketing Committee.

"This shows that one of the best marketing tools we have is our product," Hammerle said. "We felt that rather than spend it all on advertising, put some of that money into purses, and it helps advertise itself. The day's business seems to bear that out."

- additional reporting by Jay Privman