08/17/2005 11:00PM

Smith hopes pace picks up after slow first half

Benoit & Associates
Courageous King, with Mike Smith up, wins his stakes debut in Wednesday's Green Flash at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. - The first half of the Del Mar meeting did not go as jockey Mike Smith had hoped. Through Monday, the end of the fourth week of the meeting, Smith had four wins and was not among the top 10 leading riders.

Week 5 began much better. Wednesday, Smith rode Courageous King to an upset win in the $76,300 .

It could be the start of a late-season turnaround. Saturday, Smith rides Singhalese in the Grade 1, $300,000 Del Mar Oaks for 3-year-old fillies. She is among the leading contenders in the race.

Still, Smith said he has been frustrated by the lack of success. He had spent the spring and early summer at Churchill Downs, where he won his first Kentucky Derby aboard Giacomo, and returned to California before the start of Del Mar.

"I looked for it to be slow in the beginning, but I thought it would pick up more than it has," Smith said.

Smith said he plans to ride at Belmont Park after Del Mar ends Sept. 7 and at Keeneland in October before returning to Southern California in November.

Everything went right for Smith in the Green Flash

Courageous King ($23) ran five furlongs on turf in 55.11 seconds, just missing a 12-day-old track record of 55 seconds.

The Green Flash was Courageous King's stakes debut. A 4-year-old colt purchased for $700,000 at the 2003 Keeneland 2-year-olds in training sale, Courageous King had not started since finishing second in an optional claimer at Golden Gate Fields in May. Owned by Roger King, Courageous King is trained by Wesley Ward.

"Wesley said the colt would run huge," Smith said. "He settled into his stride, and he finished very well."

Third early, Courageous King rallied through the stretch to finish a length in front of pacesetter Roi Charmant. Siren Lure rallied from last in the field of eight to finish third.

Chester's Choice makes comeback

Overcoming minor injuries that have kept him off the track for 16 months, Chester's Choice returns to the track of his most prominent win when he starts in an allowance race at Del Mar on Saturday.

A largely unknown horse, Chester's Choice was a star for a day on Sept. 7, 2003, when he won a match race against Woke Up Dreamin, a Bob Baffert-trained horse who has since become a multiple-stakes-winning sprinter.

"It's been a productive race," said trainer Summer Mayberry.

While Woke Up Dreamin is a candidate for the Breeders' Cup Sprint this fall, Mayberry said she is hoping Chester's Choice can have a lengthy campaign. Unraced since April 2004, Chester's Choice has been sidelined by a knee injury and sore feet.

"It's been little nagging problems along the way," Mayberry said.

The match race was billed as a "Battle of the Sexes," since Patrick Valenzuela rode Chester's Choice and Woke Up Dreamin was ridden by Julie Krone. At the time, Valenzuela and Krone were in a tight battle for leading rider.

Earlier this week, Mayberry recalled the build-up to the match race, run at 1 1/16 miles.

"I remember Baffert trying to get the racing office to shorten the race," Mayberry said. "I said, 'No, it will be long.' He wanted it to be a mile."

Woke Up Dreamin led early, but Chester's Choice made up 2 1/2 lengths in the final furlong to win by a nose.

"At the quarter pole, I remember thinking, 'This is the worst idea I've ever agreed to,' " Mayberry said.

Owned by Robert Rupert, Chester's Choice has made only three subsequent starts since the match race, all in a five-week span in March and April 2004. He finished 10th in his comeback and second in two optional claimers. In his last start, Chester's Choice finished second to Choctaw Nation, who has since won consecutive runnings of the San Diego Handicap.

Choctaw Nation starts in Sunday's $1 million .

Just getting Chester's Choice to a stakes would be a delight for Rupert and Mayberry. First, he must run well Saturday.

"I think I have him pretty fit," Mayberry said.

Consortium hasn't ruled on Norman

As of early Thursday, Louisiana trainer Cole Norman had not been sanctioned by a consortium of racetrack and industry officials for having a horse test in excess of the permitted levels of carbon dioxide in a race last month at Del Mar.

The consortium has administered carbon dioxide testing since the beginning of the year.

According to spokesman Dr. Rick Arthur, the consortium has held discussions with a lawyer representing Norman, but has not announced any penalty. Other trainers cited for similar infractions this year have had their starters placed under surveillance in the 24 hours before a race for a period of 30 days.

With Norman based in Louisiana and not having a year-round presence in California, the circumstances of the penalty are different.

"We're close to finalizing the situation," Arthur said. "His counsel did ask for an extension. We did give it to him.

"He's back there, and we're here. It's an unusual circumstance."

O'Neill's Italian import in for Oaks

After a whirlwind trip from Italy to Holland and Southern California in the last week, Lasika will start as an outsider in Saturday's $300,000 Del Mar Oaks at Del Mar.

According to trainer Doug O'Neill, Lasika only arrived Monday and cleared quarantine Wednesday. She arrived at his stable late Wednesday.

"She looks good for a filly that was in Italy six days ago," O'Neill said on Thursday morning. "She's kind of a lightly made filly, but she looks good."

In Italy, Lasika won 4 of 12 starts, including a minor stakes last summer over about 7 1/2 furlongs on turf. She won her most recent start, an allowance race June 25. The race came a week after Lasika finished sixth in the Group 1 Italian Oaks.

Michelle Boghossian is the new owner of Lasika. Boghossian celebrates a birthday Sunday, and the filly is a present from her husband, Paul.