03/27/2003 12:00AM

Souris tops WinStar Oaks on track's richest weekend


SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - Saturday's $250,0000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks begins the richest weekend in Sunland history, culminating with the $500,000 WinStar Derby on Sunday.

Racing in New Mexico was on the verge of collapsing in the late 1990's when legislation was passed to allow slot machines at the state's tracks. Because of the success of its slot parlor, Sunland has gradually increased purses and the quality of its racing program. This weekend's stakes show just how far Sunland has come.

Sunland also has a sponsor for this weekend's stakes in WinStar Farm. Bill Casner, a partner in WinStar, worked his way through college at the University of Texas-El Paso as an exercise rider at Sunland and was the driving force behind the arrangement.

A field of nine will line up in the one-mile Oaks, including four California shippers and an uncoupled entry from trainer Steve Asmussen. Several of the entrants are proven in stakes company but not at the distance, while others have won going long but not in top competition.

Souris, who is trained by Asmussen, appears the likely favorite. She has already won two stakes and has placed in four others. Even though both of her stakes wins have come at sprint distances - the six-furlong Top Flight at Arlington and in her last start the seven-furlong Wishing Well at Delta Downs - she also has run well in mile races. She finished second in the Delta Princess and third in both the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Lassie and the Pocahontas at Churchill, all at one mile. Corey Lanerie will be in for the mount.

California invader Himalayan was claimed by trainer Ted H. West for $80,000 on Dec. 31 at Santa Anita. She has since finished third in both the Grade 2 Santa Ynez and the La Habra. Himalayan, a Mountain Cat filly, will be tested at two turns for the first time in the Oaks, but West believes she will rate and can handle the distance. She has the disadvantage of breaking from post 9, and jockey G.F. Almeida will have to use some of her speed to gain favorable position before entering the clubhouse turn.

Sunland Park owner Stan Fulton has sent Ela Ela to his local trainer, O. D. Jamison, for the Oaks. While her stakes efforts have been dull, she beat Cal-breds in a nonwinners-other-than going 1 1/16 miles in her last start. Ela Ela breaks from the rail under Sunland's leading jockey, Jorge Bourdieu. A good effort in the Oaks means she will likely return to the Southern California barn of Rafael Becerra.

Eight entered in WinStar Derby

Flarion's Flame, a local who finished third behind Mr. Decatur and Excessivepleasure in the Borderland Derby here March 2, was a surprise entrant when a field of eight was drawn for the WinStar Derby on Thursday morning. The post-position draw was conducted in the same style as that used for the Kentucky Derby, with trainers' names being randomly drawn to establish a selection order, and then the trainers picking their post positions.

Sum Trick, who like Ela Ela is owned by Fulton, won the Riley Allison Futurity here and is in line for a $250,000 bonus if he wins the WinStar and then takes the Lone Star Derby May 10. Since the Allison, Sum Trick has been with Becerra at Santa Anita, where he finished second to Kafwain in the seven-furlong San Vicente, then fifth, five lengths behind Rojo Toro in the one-mile San Rafael, his first try at a distance. Sum Trick has been back in Jamison's Sunland barn for three weeks.

Other prominent shippers include two from Bob Baffert. Spensive won the one-mile Gold Rush at Golden Gate and most recently was second in the San Rafael. He will be ridden by Gary Stevens from post 8. Baffert also entered Apalachian Thunder, who drew post 2 with Pat Valenzuela named to ride. Apalachian Thunder won an entry-level Santa Anita allowance at one mile Jan. 24, then finished fourth going 6 1/2 furlongs on the turf in the Grade 3 Baldwin Feb. 23.

Lanerie rides Mr. Decatur in post 3. Pat Day rides California Breeder's Championship winner Excessivepleasure, who drew post 7.

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