08/26/2004 11:00PM

Sarafan's tank hasn't hit empty yet

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PHOENIX - On Aug. 1, I wrote that Sarafan's poor effort in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap "may simply signal he's at the end of the line."

Three days later, he handily won the Escondido Handicap.

Oops.

In my defense, there seemed sound evidence for such a supposition. Sarafan, a gallant Grade 1 stakes winner and combatant at the upper levels in the United States, Europe, and the Orient, seemed to be, at age 7, on the decline. It seemed that all the miles and all the racing had finally taken its toll.

But trainer Neil Drysdale knew his horse well. He recognized Sarafan had trouble in the Read and from that point on never extended himself, merely galloping around the track. On paper it looked as though you could put a fork in him, but what it apparently meant was that Sarafan was simply living to fight another day.

Drysdale wheeled Sarafan back 10 days later, and he won the Escondido.

So, when Drysdale brings back Sarafan for Sunday's Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles it's easy to see him as a big threat again. There are two other major factors in his favor. First, the Escondido was at this same 11-furlong trip. Second, Sarafan has long been known as a Del Mar lover. He won the Read back in 2002, and his loss in this year's edition was his first defeat on this turf course in four tries. With that comeback score in the Escondido it makes his local turf record an enviable 4 for 5.

But this spot is considerably tougher than the Escondido, though not as tough as the Read. Sarafan must deal with Star Over the Bay and Continuously, the one-two finishers in the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap closing weekend at Hollywood, the pair of Gene de Campeao and Outta Here, who finished second and third to him in the Escondido, the up-and-coming Murano, and two top-class females in Moscow Burning and Dimitrova, who is a stablemate of Sarafan.

But the 7-year-old Sarafan is the key. The way he drew off when asked in the Escondido shows my assessment about him was premature.

The other wagering entity of interest is the Mike Mitchell-trained entry of Murano and Star Over the Bay. Mitchell plunked down $62,500 to claim Murano on Aug. 14. All the horse did that day was get up in the final strides to win nicely, indicating he is indeed ready for this step up. And in case he can't handle it, his entrymate, Star Over the Bay, likewise a Mitchell claim (for $80,000 at Hollywood in May) comes off a game win in the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood. He does his best when allowed to use his speed, so he figures to jump out front and take them as far as he can. It may be a long way. An exacta box of Sarafan and that tough Mitchell entry may be the way to go.

A star may indeed be born

Adreamisborn had shown decent ability for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer in northern California, but he seemed destined for a "nice" career on the turf, be it in minor stakes or classified allowance races. All that has changed, however, and Adreamisborn's startlingly good-looking Longacres Mile win at Emerald last week stamps him as a comer on the dirt. It was the fifth victory from 16 starts for Adreamisborn, who was coming off a victory in the 1 1/16-mile Alamedan Handicap at Pleasanton, but it made him 3 for 3 on dirt. Hollendorfer, who has trained such good horses as Lite Light and Event of the Year, not only likes what he sees but sees things getting better.

"I think he can run with just about anybody when he is on his game," said Hollendorfer. "I'm looking to run him in a pretty big race next time, probably back East, and then we'll see where we stand."

When he pops up in a race on the East Coast, even if it's against the big boys, Adreamisborn deserves ample respect.

Not all horses retire young

By the way, for all those still upset about Smarty Jones's premature retirement, take notice that last Sunday's Grade 1 Pacific Classic had five runners age 6 or older, including winner Pleasantly Perfect, and that 6-year-old Evening Attire won last Sunday's Grade 2 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap.