08/28/2003 12:00AM

Records were made to be broken . . .

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Four down, one to go.

Since the Del Mar meeting began on July 23, four records on the turf course have been lowered. The most recent came Wednesday when Allover won an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles in 1:39.84, edging the 1986 record of 1:40 set by Icehot.

Earlier at this meeting, records were set over five furlongs, a mile, and 1 1/8 miles. The only active distance in which a record has not been broken is 1 3/8 miles.

The fast times have led some horsemen to criticize the surface for being too hard, and has concerned Leif Dickinson, the grounds superintendent at Santa Anita and a turf course consultant at Del Mar.

Dickinson said an odd growing season - mild conditions until early summer - has led to different growth patterns for the Kikuyu and Bermuda grasses on the course.

"The Bermuda just wouldn't grow," Dickinson said. "It just sat there. Then July came and things changed completely.

"All we did was try to grow the best plant possible. We haven't changed the grass type, haven't changed the irrigation or soil. Everything is pretty much the same."

Except the times.

A record for 1 1/8 miles of 1:46.60 was set by Al Mamoon in 1986. Special Ring finished the Eddie Read Handicap in 1:45.87 on July 27. Special Ring previously held the mark for a mile - 1:32.72 set in 2002 - but it was lowered to 1:32.22 when Touch of the Blues won the Wickerr Handicap on Aug. 2.

Maria's Mirage set a five-furlong record of 55.06 on July 28.

Before the meeting, the course was cut shorter than it had been in the past.

"I knew it would be fast," Dickinson said. "We've never managed it that short."

Dickinson said the layout of the course can make maintenance difficult. Because of the proximity of the ocean, which is about a three-eighths of a mile from the final turn, Dickinson said he deals with different types of soils on both turns and in both stretches.

The first turn, for example, has more Bermuda grass. "It kicks up some dust but doesn't divot," Dickinson said.

For next season, he does not envision massive changes, but he said the course would be overseeded in May in an effort to promote more growth from the Bermuda.

Trainers are hoping that the surface will be slower next year.

"I think it's too fast," trainer Ron McAnally said.

The course's worn appearance has bothered some trainers, who are concerned the course is uneven. Their complaints have reached management. "I think it could be better," said Tom Robbins, the director of racing at Del Mar.

Dickinson said the issue has kept him awake at night.

"When I go out there I don't find the track is overly hard," he said. "Why is it firmer than it has been? I can't believe it's that fast on the conditions alone. In my wildest dreams, I didn't think it would be that fast.

"I really wish there was something else we could to make this thing better."

Allover targeting Oak Tree Mile

Trainer Bob Baffert said Allover will be pointed for the $300,000 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 5, a prep to the Breeders' Cup Mile 20 days later.

Owned by The Thoroughbred Corp., Allover beat winners for the first time in Wednesday's allowance race, leading throughout to score by 4 1/2 lengths.

Allover has won 2 of 5 starts. He raced once in England last year and won a maiden race on dirt at Hollywood Park by nine lengths in early June. Wednesday's victory ended a two-race losing streak, including a second in an allowance race on Aug. 10.

"He's just learning how to run," Baffert said. "He ran pretty well when he got beat the other day."

Stevens is back in the saddle

Gary Stevens worked Fun House for trainer Ron McAnally on Thursday. For Stevens, it was his first time aboard a horse since suffering a collapsed lung in a spill at the finish of the Arlington Million on Aug. 16.

Last weekend, Stevens said he hoped to return to riding as early as this weekend, but he has pushed his return back to the final weekend of the Del Mar meeting, Sept. 6-7.

He intends to ride Miss Houdini in the Torrey Pines Stakes on Sept. 7.

"All systems are go," he said. "I felt good. If I'd known I would feel this good, I could have had a couple of mounts this weekend. But it may be a blessing. I could be sore tomorrow.

"My air was good and that was the main issue. I didn't lose that much fitness."

In the days following the accident, Stevens said he would not return until late September. When he does return, he does not plan to take many rides. "I just want to get going," he said.

Stevens was injured when unseated from Storming Home after the finish of the Arlington Million.

Storming Home worked a half-mile on turf at Del Mar in 47 seconds on Thursday. Trainer Neil Drysdale said that Storming Home is being considered for the Turf Classic at Belmont Park on Sept. 27 or the Clement Hirsch Turf Championship at Santa Anita on Sept. 28.

Expensive 2-year-old to make debut

Diamond Fury, purchased for a record $2.7 million at the Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds in training earlier this year, makes his debut in a maiden race over 5 1/2 furlongs on Saturday.

Trained by Baffert, Diamond Fury faces six others, including five other first-time starters. The only starter with any experience is Consecrete, a Silver Charm colt trained by Baffert who has made two starts, finishing seventh and fourth.

Prado lands ride on Congaree

Edgar Prado has been named to ride Breeders' Cup Classic hopeful Congaree in the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park on Sept. 13, Baffert said.

Congaree has not started since winning the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 13, his fourth stakes win of 2003. Jerry Bailey, Congaree's previous rider, is booked to ride at Belmont Park on Sept. 13.

Mullins strong in Thursday feature

Thursday's featured seventh race, an optional claimer over 1 3/8 miles on turf, was reduced to four runners with the withdrawals of Garden in the Rain, the 8-5 favorite on the morning line, and top contender Top Spinner.

Jeff Mullins trains both. They were entered to be claimed for $100,000. Mullins said that Top Spinner tied up on Wednesday morning and that Garden in the Rain suffered a respiratory infection.

Future veterinarians visit track

Amber Domino and Alaine Hu, veterinary students at the University of California at Davis who have received scholarships from the California Thoroughbred Foundation, visited Del Mar this week and met with private and state veterinarians during their tour.

Both students have a final year of vet school remaining, then will participate in internships, according to Dr. Greg Ferraro, a former racetrack veterinarian and acclaimed surgeon who is now the director for the Center for Equine Health at U.C. Davis.

Both Domino and Hu received scholarship aid from the California Thoroughbred Foundation, a non-profit organization closely associated with the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association since 1958. The CTF also maintains the well-stocked library at the CTBA offices in Arcadia, Calif.

Jeanne Canty, the widow of former trainer John Canty and a CTF director, accompanied the students along with Ferraro.

"The partial scholarships go to two seniors in vet school who are going to work with large animals," Canty said.

Tax-deductible donations to the CTF can be made at P.O. Box 60018, Arcadia, CA, 91066-6018.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman