10/09/2003 12:00AM

Pair of 10-race winners to battle in match race


East Boston, Mass. - It won't be Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral, but there's match-race fever in New England again as the two winningest horses in North America - Call Me Mr. Vain and Diplomatical - face off in a one-on-one contest Oct. 22 at Suffolk Downs.

Each horse is a veteran claimer who has racked up 10 wins this year. The connections of both have agreed to a six-furlong race with a likely $10,000 purse that will be split 80-20.

Suffolk staged a similar match race in 1998 when locally based Maybe Jack was tied for the most wins with Finger Lakes-based Pro on Ice late in December of that year. Maybe Jack won that mile contest and went on to win the title. Since then, two other New England-based horses have led the continent in wins, and promoting these blue-collar stars has become a specialty here.

The trainers of Call Me Mr. Vain and Diplomatical are feeding the match race hype.

"We'll take him on no matter what," said trainer Mario Destefano, who claimed Call Me Mr. Vain from Carlos Figueroa after the horse won for the 10th time in August. "We'll face [Diplomatical] anywhere from two furlongs to two miles. I'm ready and my horse is ready and I know I'll win."

Luis Arzola, who trains Diplomatical, is just as confident.

"I'm not scared at all," said Arzola. "I think this will be great for the track and for my horse. I've got the right rider and I've got the right conditions. My horse has more speed and if my horse gets in front I'll beat him."

New England award winners

The New England Turf Writers decided on 2003 regional champions this week, but with the impending six months of dark days this winter, there will not be an awards dinner until the spring.

The top horses are: Dhaffir, best older horse and best sprinter; Ms. Sadira, best older female; Meghan's Halo, best 3-year-old filly; Strike 'N Go, best 3-year-old colt; Milky Way Guy, best turf male; Sunlit Ridge, best turf female.

Six other horses (including the two match-race participants) and apprentice jockey Mark Phillips earned Special Achievement awards for their performances.

Ron Dandy won the Gerry Sullivan Award as the top trainer, while Joe Hampshire takes home the Eli Chiat Jockey Award.

The writers decided to wait until the spring to award the 2-year-old division honors and the two major awards, the Sam McCracken (lifetime achievement) and the Lou Smith (person of the year).