08/30/2007 11:00PM

Stoneside adds a furlong

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The Grade 2 Del Mar Derby has been won by less-talented horses than Stoneside. So why isn't the Group 1-placed import a total cinch in his U.S. debut Sunday?

It is because at nine furlongs on grass the $400,000 derby is one furlong beyond anything Stoneside tried in Europe.

"That's my concern," trainer Julio Canani admitted regarding the distance, "but every time I worked him here, he galloped out very strong."

If fast-finishing workouts confirm Stoneside can stay the distance, then the import might crush his outclassed derby rivals. But nine other 3-year-olds will try to knock off the favorite, including Bleu Intense, an improving French import also making his U.S. debut, and Worldly, the best 3-year-old turf colt in California.

The derby is the last leg of Del Mar's three-race grass series for

3-year-olds. The watered-down Oceanside Stakes on July 18 was split in three; winners Knockout Artist, Vauquelin, and Ten a Penny are mere outsiders in the Derby. In the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap on Aug. 18, Medici Code won by 1 1/4 lengths, but runner-up Worldly ran the best race.

They meet Sunday, along with longshots Augment, Souvenir Slew, Unusual Suspect, and Warning Zone. Ten a Penny is first in on the also-

eligible list, followed by Star Inside, Yario, and Karazi. Ten will start, but the derby is a three-horse race among Stoneside, Bleu Intense, and Worldly.

Marsha Naify purchased Stoneside after he finished second by three lengths in a Group 1 in France. The horse that defeated Stoneside was Lawman, whose European form has held up in North America. Lawman finished 1 3/4 lengths in front of Shamdinan, winner of the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes on Aug. 11 at Arlington.

Canani has won the Del Mar Derby four times, including in 2004 with the imported miler Blackdoun.

"Stoneside's form is much better than Blackdoun," Canani said.

Blackdoun had not raced beyond a mile before arriving in the U.S.

Canani said Stoneside "has a beautiful way of going; he's got a big, long stride. He's training good. As for the distance, we don't know."

Corey Nakatani has been working Stoneside, and rides the 4-for-13 colt Sunday from post 1.

Bleu Intense arrived midweek from Europe, and shipped Thursday night from Hollywood Park to Bobby Frankel's stable at Del Mar. Based on overseas form, Bleu Intense is still two lengths behind Stoneside. Bleu Intense finished second last out in a Group 3. The winner, Loup Breton, previously had finished more than five lengths behind Lawman. That is the horse that beat Stoneside by three lengths.

Gary Tanaka purchased Bleu Intense afterward, based on a recommendation by bloodstock manager Lincoln Collins.

"You're looking for progressive horses that have a little bit of speed, and that hopefully will enjoy the conditions," Collins said.

Bleu Intense has won 3 of his last 5, improved each start this year, and is proven at nine furlongs. Collins recognizes that Stoneside has achieved more than Bleu Intense, but warned that "you can't interpret European form like it is cast in stone." David Flores will ride.

In the unlikely event neither Stoneside nor Bleu Intense fires, the Del Mar Derby can be won by Worldly. He certainly is due for some luck after a runner-up finish in the La Jolla. "It didn't set up for him at all," trainer Ben Cecil said.

It was an accurate comment, not just another horseman crying the blues. Worldly pulled, the pace was slow, and by the time jockey Michael Baze asked him to run, pace-pressing leader Medici Code had first run. Worldly finished super for second, and should enjoy the additional half-furlong. He is reunited with Victor Espinoza, who rode Worldly to his first three U.S. wins, including Grade 3 victories in the Will Rogers and Cinema Handicap at Hollywood Park.

"Nothing against Michael Baze, but Victor knows this horse so well, and he works him every time," Cecil said.