02/13/2003 12:00AM

The Tin Man should relish a starring role

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The last time The Tin Man tried 1 1/2 miles it was before an international audience in the nation's richest turf race, the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf last October at Arlington Park.

The Tin Man will face a much easier job in Saturday's $200,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap at Santa Anita.

With the benefit of a recent prep race - a close second in the San Marcos Stakes on Jan. 20 - The Tin Man will be a strong favorite in the San Luis Obispo, which has drawn seven entrants.

The prospect of a soft turf course does not concern trainer Richard Mandella. The Arlington Park course was listed as yielding for the Breeders' Cup Turf. The Tin Man finished fourth, three lengths behind High Chaparral, after disputing the lead to mid-stretch.

"He ran on a soft course and ran well, so I don't anticipate any problems," Mandella said.

The Tin Man is the 121-pound highweight in the San Luis Obispo, spotting his rivals three to eight pounds. The participation of his closest rival in the weights - Continental Red, 118 pounds - is doubtful.

Continental Red will not start unless the race is transferred from turf to dirt because of recent rains, trainer Ian Jory said.

"He can't handle the soft grass," Jory said. "He ran on the soft turf in Kentucky and he didn't like it at all. I'm praying the rain keeps going."

The Tin Man customarily races from the front, a style that led to victories last year in the American Handicap at Hollywood Park and Clement Hirsch Turf Champion-ship at Santa Anita.

He is unlikely to face significant early pressure, although Harrisand and Special Matter can race near the front.

Harrisand was a close fourth in the San Marcos, and won allowance races at Belmont Park and Hollywood Park last fall.

Special Matter won the Carleton Burke Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on turf during the Oak Tree meet, but has lost his last two starts.

Ultimately, Mandella wants to give The Tin Man experience at 1 1/2 miles to prepare him for another attempt at the Breeders' Cup Turf, which will be run at Santa Anita this year.

"I think he'll like the 1 1/2 miles," Mandella said. "I want to get a few practices in, and give him the summer off and point for the fall."

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