08/13/2001 11:00PM

Sestino back on better footing

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Sestino returned from a 23-month layoff four weeks ago, very nearly won, but then looked as though he might need another vacation. He was pulled up soon after the wire by jockey Chris McCarron, and had to be taken from the course in the horse ambulance.

As it turned out, there was nothing wrong with Sestino, at least nothing that couldn't be fixed by a farrier. He had dislodged his right front shoe during the race, and because it was sitting askew, it made a clanging sound that alarmed McCarron, who rode the horse gingerly in the final furlong.

Newly shod with glue-on shoes on his front hooves, and with three works on this course in the interim, Sestino figures to fire his best shot in Thursday's feature race at Del Mar, a 1 3/8-mile turf race for second-level allowance horses, or $62,500 claimers. Eight are entered, including the entry of Flo the Blo and Neki from Simon Bray's barn.

Sestino has had a star-crossed career. Now 6, he has raced only 10 times, and was absent for nearly two years until his recent comeback. He won the first two starts of his career and was third in the 1998 French Derby, but has not won a race since April 1998.

Sestino's comeback race here July 19, however, was excellent. His Neil Drysdale-trained stablemate Beat All wore down Sestino in the shadow of the wire, and it was obvious from the cautious way McCarron rode Sestino in the final furlong that he feared something serious had gone wrong.

"Chris came out to work him the other morning, and said he felt great," Drysdale said Tuesday. "He's trained very well since the race. He damaged the wall of that foot in the race, so we went ahead and glued some shoes on. They're on both feet, just for balance."

When Sestino returned from his last start, the shoe was attached to his right front hoof, but was bent severely, and had lost the nails. Drysdale theorizes that Sestino caught his shoe with a rear hoof, bent it back and lost the nails. He thinks the shoe stayed on the foot only because of the concussion of the hoof hitting the course.

Flo the Blo was a four-length winner at this distance when facing a slightly softer allowance field on July 25. Continental Red has finished in the money in four consecutive races at 1 1/4 miles and beyond, including the Escondido Handicap on Aug. 1.

* In the sixth race, Tamara Princess, Riboletta's full sister, seeks her second win in two starts. Both Tamara Princess and Sestino are owned by Aaron and Marie Jones. Eduardo Inda trains Tamara Princess.

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