08/27/2004 12:00AM

Speed the angle of choice in Del Mar 'Cap

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LEXINGTON, KY. - Who do you like in Sunday's Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap?

There are a number of ways to go in this 1 3/8-mile turf race. Do you like career earnings as a sign of class? Sarafan leads the field in earnings with $2,488,671 in the bank, more than twice as much as Dimitrova, who has accumulated $1,102,696 while running against fillies and mares. But what about recent form? Sarafan, who shows 42 career starts, has earned just $16,400 per race from six starts this year, with his lone win in the restricted Escondido Handicap. In fact, two of the three wins showing among his last 12 starts, dating back to May 21, 2003, were achieved in restricted races, with the other being an allowance win. Although still a serious threat, Sarafan does not stand out here.

Dimitrova settled for fourth money in her last three races, all versus females. One of those was a last-place finish in the Gamely, and another came in a six-horse field in the Mabee. She will have to show more.

Moscow Burning, the other filly in the field, ran better than Dimitrova in her recent races, with 2 wins and 2 seconds from her last 4 starts. Her Beyers of 99, 99, and 102 from her last three races fit here. The catch is that although she was second in the Mabee, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths, it was disheartening to see how easily Musical Chimes kicked past her late in that 1 1/8-mile turf race.

Do you like trainer angles? Murano was claimed for $62,500 by Mike Mitchell in his last race. Mitchell has won with an impressive 33 percent of 90 horses making their first start for him following a claim, with a healthy $2.49 return on every $2 bet. Murano is coupled with Star Over the Bay, who looks even better. Star Over the Bay grabbed the early lead, and held on to beat 4-5 favorite Continuously by a nose at Hollywood in the Sunset Handicap. Better yet, Star Over the Bay set a strong pace for the 1 1/2-mile distance, and figures to be the speed of the speed in this race. Will he be as effective on the move to Del Mar in the rematch?

I checked the results of the 17 turf routes run at Del Mar from Aug. 19 through Aug. 26 to see which running styles were most effective.

Horses located in mid-pack at the first call had an edge, but all running styles won. Three winners were front-runners (18 percent), and four winners (24 percent) rallied from last place. However, a closer look at the details shows that Star Over the Bay has a better chance than those numbers suggest. As it turns out, a disproportionately high number of the losing early speed horses were longshots, sent to the post at 25-1, 30-1, 32-1, 43-1, and 53-1. Throw them out, and early leaders won 3 of 12 (25 percent).

And remember that Star Over the Bay isn't just any speed horse. He is one who has a solid pace advantage. Of those 12 early leaders, eight led by 1 1/2 lengths or more at the first or second call. All three of the winners were in that group, and paid $32.60, $11.40, and $9.80. That works out to 38 percent wins, $53.80 in win payoffs, and a generous $6.73 return on investment.

I'll make the entry my pick, with the advantage going to Star Over the Bay.

I'll take Continuously as the other half of the exacta. Although he was assisted by the fractions in the Sunset, he still deserves credit for being a steady runner while finishing in the exacta in Grade 1 and Grade 2 stakes company in four of his last five races. He shows a win and a close third (in this race a year ago) from his two previous races on this course.

Of the others, Gene de Campeao ran an improved race while second behind Sarafan in the Escondido and could be a factor in the gimmicks if he returns to the form he showed while finishing third, beaten by only a length, in the San Luis Rey at Santa Anita.

Mananan McLir just beat optional claimers here in his return from a four-month layoff and has trained well at Hollywood Park since that victory, with works in 48.40, 59.40, and 1:12.40. Outta Here just finished third behind Sarafan and Gene de Campeao, and his career 17-2-3-6 record is too heavily weighted towards minor placings to be appealing as he steps up in class.