09/04/2003 11:00PM

Tates Creek away, mice will play

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DEL MAR, Calif. - When word got out Friday morning at Del Mar that Tates Creek was going to pass Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Palomar Breeders' Cup Handicap, there was much rejoicing. Maybe not in the racing office, but certainly among the trainers of the remaining runners.

"Good," said Jeff Mullins, who will send out the tiny but mighty Garden in the Rain. "It's hard once you've blown all your conditions to find easy races."

And without Tates Creek, who has won 6 of her last 8 starts, the Palomar is certainly easier. Tates Creek will pass the race because her trainer, Bobby Frankel, has expressed concern over the condition of the turf course.

"He told me not to enter," Frankel's assistant, Humberto Ascanio, said Friday morning.

Grade 1 winners Affluent, Megahertz, and Voodoo Dancer also were nominated to the race, but passed, too. In the end, only five older female runners entered the 1 1/16-mile grass race. The highweight, at a mere 116 pounds, is Magic Mission, who broke a seven-race losing streak when she captured Hollywood Park's Grade 3 Royal Heroine Stakes on July 5 in her last start.

Magic Mission was entered in the Grade 1 John C. Mabee Handicap here on July 26, but trainer Neil Drysdale elected to scratch her rather than face Megahertz, Tates Creek, Dublino, and the since-retired Golden Apples.

"Those were really good fillies," John O'Donoghue, Drysdale's top assistant, said Friday morning. "And that race didn't have any speed in it. She needs pace to run at."

Pace in the Palomar should be provided by Spring Star, who finished third in the restricted Osunitas Handicap on Aug. 13.

Garden in the Rain is making her first start since May 26, when she ran poorly on a soft course at Lone Star Park. She performed well in graded stakes races earlier this year at Santa Anita.

"I'd have liked to have gotten a conditioned allowance race into her," Mullins said. "If we can get a graded win, it would make her worth a lot more as a broodmare."

Julie Krone rides Garden in the Rain. Earlier on the card, she'll face Patrick Valenzuela in a match race.

Rhiana was scratched from Thursday's Piedra Foundation Handicap on dirt for this race. Dan Hendricks, her trainer, said he thought a 1 1/16-mile grass race would be more suitable than a one-mile dirt race for Rhiana, who has not raced since April.