08/10/2004 12:00AM

'Tin Man' returning in turf mile


DEL MAR, Calif. - After racing strictly in top stakes in 2003, The Tin Man makes his 2004 debut Thursday against a field of battle-tested allowance-class horses in a $70,000 optional claimer at Del Mar.

has not started since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf last October. Trained by Richard Mandella for Ralph and Aury Todd, The Tin Man was entered in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup a month later but was withdrawn because of an ankle injury.

A 6-year-old, The Tin Man has been ready to run since late July, but Mandella wanted to start the gelding's campaign in a one-mile race instead of the Escondido Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf last week.

"This is a good chance to get him started," Mandella said. "He seems as good as he's ever been."

At a mile on turf, Thursday's race may not be the best distance for The Tin Man. The Tin Man has run well over a mile - he was a game third in the Grade 2 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Handicap in 2002 - but has excelled at longer distances.

Last year, The Tin Man won the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Santa Anita. He finished second in both the United Nations Handicap at Monmouth Park and San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita and was sixth in the Arlington Million, all at 1 1/4 miles or beyond.

Several other starters in Thursday's seventh race seem better suited to a mile.

was third in the Wickerr Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on turf on July 31. Trained by Neil Drysdale, Golden Arrow is winless in five starts since an optional claimer for sprinters on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita last October.

has won 4 of his last 5 starts, including the Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes at Canterbury Park on July 17.

Golden Arrow and Stage Player may set the pace, while Royal Price and Anziyan Royalty are best as stalkers. The Tin Man has done both over longer races, but is likely to be off the pace at a mile.

Royal Price placed in group stakes in Germany last year, and won his last start over a mile on turf at Hollywood Park on July 18. He was third behind Stage Player at Hollywood on May 30.

Anziyan Royalty won his last start over 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Hollywood on July 3.