07/24/2003 11:00PM

They're off and sprinting on the turf

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The first five-furlong turf race at Del Mar in nine years produced a course record on Thursday when FJ's Pace won an optional claimer in 56.32 seconds.

The record may not last long.

With turf sprints scheduled throughout the meeting, including two $75,000 stakes, a division of horses that normally had no opportunities at Del Mar will be in action.

According to Tom Robbins, the director of racing, 12 to 15 five-furlong turf races will be run before the meeting ends on Sept. 10. The top races for the division will be the Daisy Cutter Handicap for fillies and mares on Aug. 1 and the Green Flash Handicap on Aug. 20.

Robbins said fields will be limited to 10 runners when the rails are at the normal position, and eight runners when the temporary rail is seven feet out.

Del Mar inaugurated turf sprints this year as a way to continue a kind of race that is popular at the circuit's other tracks. They are run over 5 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park and over Santa Anita's famous downhill turf course at about 6 1/2 furlongs.

In Thursday's race, the durable FJ's Pace took the lead from the start and held off a late threat from Red Sky's to win by a length. An optional claimer worth $64,000, the race drew five runners.

The surface was well-received by jockeys. "He loved it," said Tyler Baze, who rode FJ's Pace to his 15th win in 53 starts. In the past year, FJ's Pace, 8, has won turf sprints at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita.

Patrick Valenzuela rode With Iris, who tried to go with FJ's Pace early but finished third.

"My horse felt great," he said. "I just couldn't catch the winner."

Del Mar offered its first turf sprint in 1994, when Soviet Problem beat Mamselle Babette in a match race over five furlongs in 56.58 seconds.

Marlow wins two

Mike Marlow scored the second two-win day of his brief training career on Thursday. Both two-win days came for the same owners.

On Thursday, Marlow won the first race with Akron Avenue for Barry Rubin and the fourth race with Standard Choice for the partnership of John Barker, Phillip Daniels, and Rick Starr.

On Feb. 5 at Santa Anita, Marlow won a claiming race for the partnership and an allowance race for Rubin.

Marlow, a former assistant to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, opened his stable 18 months ago. Last year at this time, he had three horses. This year his stable has 19, roughly half what Marlow hopes to have.

Marlow is just happy to have better success than last year at Del Mar, when two of the horses were injured and another could only manage a fourth.

"No one ever said it would be easy, but it's a matter of how bad do you want it," he said.

On Sunday, Marlow starts Enduring Freedom in the first race, a sprint for $50,000 claimers. The 3-year-old filly has already turned out to be a good claim. Bought for $25,000 at Santa Anita in April, she won a $40,000 claimer for Marlow and owner Suzy Meguerditchian in May.

Daunting may run back Aug. 3

Daunting, the winner of the Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury Park last weekend, may reappear in the $250,000 San Diego Handicap on Aug. 3, trainer Mark Glatt said.

Glatt on Thursday said he has been pleasantly surprised with the way the former claimer emerged from his win in the Claiming Crown and the ship back to California.

"When they are sharp two, three, and four days later, you get a good feeling that he came out of the race pretty good," he said.

Glatt said the $100,000 Joseph T. Grace Handicap at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa next Saturday is also a possibility for Daunting's nex race.

The San Diego Handicap will not draw the top handicap horses on the circuit - Candy Ride, the winner of the American Handicap on July 4, and Congaree, the winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 13.

The San Diego probables are led by Joey Franco, who won three sprint stakes at Hollywood Park. He is expected to face Danthebluegrass-man, Gondolieri, Kela, Primerica, Publication, and Reba's Gold.

* On Wednesday, Alpenfest, the winner of the Proctor Stakes in May, and Stalking Tiger, the winner of the Haggin Stakes in June, meet in the $125,000 Graduation Stakes for

2-year-old California-breds. Also expected are Don'tsellmeshort and Lil' Bro Eddie.

* On Saturday, Atlantic Ocean, who finished third in the American Oaks on July 5, returns in the $150,000 San Clemente Handicap for 3-year-old fillies over a mile on turf. Her opponents will include Buffythecenterfold, Katdogawn, Star Vega, and Welcome Millenium.

Atswhatimtalknbout recovering

Atswhatimtalknbout, who developed into one of the nation's elite 3-year-olds this spring and finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby, only recently returned to training after getting time off because of a quarter crack, or cracked hoof.

"He's been back jogging for about a week at Santa Anita," said Ron Ellis, who trains Atswhatimtalknbout. "The foot has grown back and looks real nice. It never got that nasty."

Atswhatimtalknbout suffered the injury, to his right front hoof, while preparing for the Belmont Stakes. When that race was scrapped from his plans, Ellis brought the colt back to California and decided to give him a lengthy vacation.

"I'm happy with the way he's coming back," Ellis said. "He should be ready to race in early November. I want to get a couple of races into him and then roll into the Strub Series at Santa Anita. He probably won't run in the Malibu. We're looking at the San Fernando, Strub, and Santa Anita Handicap."

Atswhatimtalknbout is owned by B. Wayne Hughes, who earlier this year sold a 10 percent interest in the colt to several of the producers involved in the movie "Seabiscuit."

Toro back on home turf

Fernando Toro moved to Del Mar after he retired from riding in 1990. He has maintained a long friendship with trainer Richard Mandella and was at his barn this week, visiting friends who have come down for the summer.

Toro, 62, said he recently watched the retirement ceremonies for Laffit Pincay Jr. He said it brought back memories of when he was part of a California-based jockey colony that was the best in the nation, including recently retired Hall of Famers Eddie Delahoussaye and Chris McCarron.

"It was very sad to see Laffit retire. He was the cream of the cream," Toro said. "Laffit, Delahoussaye, McCarron, Shoemaker - there's not any guys that can replace those guys. I feel very fortunate to have ridden with a great group of riders."

Toro currently manages two imports to this country for their South American-based owners.

Glitch disrupts betting

A tote system malfunction before the first race on Thursday kept ontrack customers from placing wagers for 25 minutes and cost Del Mar an estimated $80,000 to $100,000 in handle, track officials said.

The system had trouble communicating with a backup and needed a lengthy period of time to be rebooted, according to track president Joe Harper.

* Gary Stevens will introduce Mike Smith at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Aug. 4.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman