07/26/2005 12:00AM

Star Pupil Yakteen's best shot at victory


DEL MAR, Calif. - It's with great expectations as well as a heavy heart that Tim Yakteen sends out three of the 30 runners in his barn Thursday, including a rapidly improving long-distance specialist in the day's richest race and a runner representing a recently deceased owner in another race.

Yakteen's best chance may lay with , who goes in the second race, an optional claiming event at 1 3/8 miles on turf that carries a purse of $65,000. Star Pupil has crossed the wire first in his last two starts, both at 1 1/4 miles, but was disqualified from his last victory, at Hollywood Park on June 23, when he drifted in during the stretch run.

"That was frustrating," Yakteen said. "He inherited the lead, because no one wanted the lead. He was green. It was the first time he had made the lead so early in a race."

Yakteen said he ideally would like Star Pupil, who starts from the rail, to find cover early, but there is precious little pace in the race. Only five others are entered, and the horse who might have had the best chance of making the lead, Republican Hawk, might be scratched, according to trainer Neil Drysdale.

"He's only had two recent works," Drysdale said. "I'm not sure if he's ready."

Regardless, Star Pupil is "training great," Yakteen said.

Star Pupil has steadily improved for Yakteen since arriving from Great Britain. His Beyer Speed Figures have moved forward with every start, and he comes off a career-best 97.

Deputy Lad is taking a steep class drop after competing in a pair of Grade 1 races, including the Charles Whittingham on turf, in his last two starts. He finished only 4 1/2 lengths behind Sweet Return in the Whittingham.

Leprechaun Kid was an unlucky sixth in his comeback July 3 and has a right to improve.

In addition to Star Pupil, Yakteen also will run the comebacking Best Friend Gracie in the sixth race and the claimer Cat Robber in the seventh.

Best Friend Gracie is a sentimental choice. She was bred and is owned by longtime owners Jack and Florence Arnold. Jack Arnold died over the weekend. Yakteen had first been associated with Arnold while an assistant with Bob Baffert, for whom Best Friend Gracie made one start last August at Del Mar, finishing second.

"She ran a big race last year," Yakteen said. "She's training super. She had a shin problem last year that needed a compression screw. I know the filly well, because she was with me with the second string when I was with Bob. She ran well at this track last year, so I expect a big race."