08/12/2002 11:00PM

Shirreffs reunited with old pal


DEL MAR, Calif. - An old friend has returned to the barn of John Shirreffs, and the trainer could not be happier. David Copperfield has had a star-crossed career, the highlights including defeating Fusaichi Pegasus in a maiden race and winning the Cinema Handicap, the lowlights including never quite living up to the $2 million The Thoroughbred Corporation spent for him at the Marshall Naify dispersal two years ago.

And now David Copperfield, who spent part of last year on the East Coast with trainer Bill Mott, is back in California, ready to return from a near-14-month layoff in Thursday's second race, the highlight of the midweek card at Del Mar.

"He's training very good, as well as he ever has," Shirreffs said Tuesday morning. Shirreffs should know. When David Copperfield was purchased as a 2-year-old by Naify, Shirreffs was his trainer. When he was acquired by The Thoroughbred Corporation, Shirreffs stayed with him. With the exception of the four starts he made for Mott, Shirreffs has been along for the ride.

"He seems a little more mature now. I'm really looking forward to watching him run," Shirreffs said. Shirreffs said David Copperfield has been idle for more than a year because of ankle trouble. He should be fit, because Shirreffs has worked him seven furlongs in his last five drills.

The 1 1/8-mile grass race, an optional-claiming event with a purse of $73,000, drew a field of six, including the promising South African import Delta Form. He and David Copperfield should attract most of the bettors' money.

Delta Form figures to move forward off a good comeback effort at Hollywood Park on July 7. He has a history of running well in his second start off a layoff. Last year, Delta Form was fourth in his North American debut, then won the restricted Henry P. Russell Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

In his comeback race on July 7, Delta Form was going only a flat mile, and ended up in a field with the streaking Special Ring, who has developed into one of the best turf milers on the West Coast. The extra distance Tuesday should play to his favor.

"He can run farther than that," said his trainer, Jenine Sahadi. "This is the next logical step."

Delta Form was off for nine months because of a severe bout of pneumonia. "Luckily he got through it, but we had to give him a lot of months to recover," Sahadi said.

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