07/31/2005 11:00PM

Sarafan on right track

Benoit & Associates
Sarafan, finishing second to Star Over the Bay in last year's Del Mar 'Cap, is 4 for 6 at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Sarafan has started at 20 racetracks in seven countries in his 47-race career, but none of those courses has meant as much to his career as Del Mar.

In six starts at Del Mar, Sarafan has won four times, with all the victories in stakes. Last year, he ran at this meeting three times, winning the Escondido Handicap and finishing second in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap.

Wednesday, will attempt to defend his title in the restricted $75,000 Escondido Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on turf, which could lead to a return engagement in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 28.

"This is his track," said trainer Neil Drysdale.

An 8-year-old, Sarafan is winless in five starts since the 2004 Escondido. This year, Sarafan finished second in an allowance race at Santa Anita and was well-beaten in two stakes at Hollywood Park, finishing seventh in the Jim Murray Handicap and sixth in the Charles Whittingham Handicap.

In the Charles Whittingham, Sarafan chased a slow pace and finished 6 1/4 lengths behind Sweet Return, who returned to win the Eddie Read Handicap here July 24.

Sarafan is seeking his eighth career stakes and trying to add to his career earnings of $2,601,671.

"I got him when he was at the end of his 3-year-old year," Drysdale said. "He's a neat old horse."

The Escondido has drawn nine entrants and is restricted to nonwinners of a stakes worth $50,000 to the winner at a mile or farther this year.

The field includes , the winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup last December; Continental Red, the 9-year-old California-bred who won the minor Quicken Tree Stakes at Hollywood Park on June 18; and Laura's Lucky Boy, the winner of the Thunder Road Handicap at Santa Anita in February.

has never been tried at 1 3/8 miles on turf.

"It looks like that's what he wants right now," trainer Richard Mandella said of the distance.

Fifth in the Hollywood Derby last November at 1 1/4 miles on turf, Laura's Lucky Boy finished fifth in the Grade 2 American Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on July 3. He was beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Whilly, making up nearly five lengths in the last half-mile.

"His last race was nice," Mandella said. "He was coming along at the end."

Continental Red is well-suited to the distance. He won the Quicken Tree at 1 1/2 miles on turf by five lengths.