08/20/2002 12:00AM

Stopwatch hints Hit the Trail ready to run

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - With one quick workout after another last summer, the buzz surrounding 2-year-old Hit the Trail was high. Although he did not enter a race at the Monmouth meet, Hit the Trail went on to win his maiden and run second in two starts at Gulfstream Park.

Yet with a promising summer ahead of him here, Hit the Trail has been plagued by minor injuries that have once again prevented him from running at Monmouth. But the highly talented Hit the Trail is on the comeback trail, and the buzz is back.

Since returning to the track, the 3-year-old Hit the Trail has recorded three workouts, the highlight of which was a four-furlong drill last Saturday. While Monmouth clockers had him in 48.20 seconds for four furlongs, trainer John Mazza said he timed his last three furlongs in a rapid 34.20. With workouts like this, Mazza said he is planning on a return for Hit the Trail in an entry-level allowance race at The Meadowlands in three or four weeks.

"I've let him go strong, but he has been doing it so easy," Mazza said. "He has such power underneath him."

On Jan. 19, Hit the Trail made his long-awaited debut with a three-length easy victory at Gulfstream as the 3-2 favorite. He returned two weeks later and dueled with Ethan Man before finishing six lengths back. Ethan Man went on to win the Grade 3 Swale in his next start.

After that race, Hit the Trail was bitten by a spider in his stall, Mazza said, an incident that cost the colt six weeks of training at Gulfstream. Heading into the Monmouth meet, Mazza said he was anxiously awaiting the opportunity to run Hit the Trail, but a popped splint ended what was expected to be a successful summer.

Mazza always has an arsenal of 2-year-olds at Monmouth, but this summer a virus that swept through much of the Monmouth backside midway through the meet struck Mazza's barn hard. The bug has recurred since then, allowing Mazza to only start a few 2-year-olds. He said the main symptom was a cough, which for some juveniles didn't pass for one month.

Since fully recovering from the splint problems, Hit the Trail has been galloping strongly for seven weeks before putting in his three workouts. Mazza said he will look to enter him in a New Jersey-bred allowance at The Meadowlands, an easy spot for his return.

"I'm really looking forward to running him," Mazza said. "I can't wait."

Unforgettable Max runs to his works

On a day filled with four stakes, it was a maiden winner with stakes potential who made the most lasting impression.

Unforgettable Max, a 2-year-old trained by Ben Perkins Jr., made his long-awaited debut on Sunday with an impressive 4 1/2-length victory, after overcoming the outside post in a field of 11 in the third race. Unforgettable Max had impressed onlookers with his workouts this summer, the foremost of which was a 46-second four-furlong move Aug. 1, and definitely translated his morning activity to the afternoons with a solid six-furlong debut in 1:11.11.

"He ran very professionally," Perkins said. "Eibar [Coa] let him settle in on his own and said he had enough left in him down the stretch."

Unforgettable Max was the third of Perkins's acclaimed trio of 2-year-olds to debut this meet. The first, Wildcat Heir, was equally impressive winning his maiden here before going on to run second in the Grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga. He has since been laid up with a popped splint. The second to debut, Max Forever, ran second to Run Production in his maiden race but has been sidelined since.

Unforgettable Max, a $210,000 2-year-old February Ocala purchase by Raymond Dweck, was unhurried while racing wide through the backstretch, but took over at the top of the lane and cruised home under mild urging from Coa.

Perkins said an entry-level allowance race at Belmont in the fall would be an ideal next start for Unforgettable Max, a son of Northern Afleet.

Meet riding, training titles locked up

After the weekend, both the jockey and trainer titles look to be wrapped up with 11 race days remaining.

Tim Hills, with 25 wins, is eight ahead of Terri Pompay in the trainer standings, and is a safe bet to win his first Monmouth training title after losing out in close races the last two years.

Eibar Coa, in his second year at Monmouth, is 14 wins ahead of Jose Velez Jr. and a near lock to win his second consecutive riding title since shifting from the south Florida circuit.