10/01/2004 12:00AM

The Tin Man: Slim, trim, and dangerous

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PHOENIX - The Tin Man suffered from the same affliction that has affected so many of us advancing in years - things started widening around the middle.

So when he came back from a break to Del Mar, The Tin Man didn't need a heart, he needed Atkins. Certainly regular rider Mike Smith noticed it.

"When he came back he had more weight on him, so I think it's going to take a couple races to get him to where he was," Smith said. "As you get older, sometimes it takes more than one race back [to get fit]."

Having ridden The Tin Man in his last 10 races, Smith knows the horse. So when the 39-year-old Hall of Fame jockey says The Tin Man will improve from his last two efforts when he runs in Sunday's Grade 2, $250,000 Clement L. Hirsch

Memorial Turf Handicap, take note.

The Tin Man finished third and ninth in two races at Del Mar, his first starts since running fourth last October in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He lost by more than seven lengths in the Live the Dream at one mile on turf at Del Mar on Sept. 8, but Smith said the performance isn't as bad as it looks.

"Honestly, he didn't run that badly," Smith said. "He just didn't run as well as I expected, but he didn't run a horrible race. He just didn't finish the last part. But at the same time, he didn't cave in, either. He galloped out really well, too, and that was a good sign."

The main reason for The Tin Man's success is his speed. But don't confuse speed with speed-crazy, or needing the lead. The Tin Man has passed horses before, so if another horse outguns him early, no problem. His natural speed carries him to the lead; it isn't as if he struggles to get there.

"He's been pretty relaxed, and with the two races under his belt I'm pretty sure he's going to be more aggressive," Smith said. "If we're up there, great, but I don't think he has to be there. Some of his best races have been on the lead, but I've also been behind horses where he's really accelerated at them, too."

This year's Hirsch isn't the strongest. It has a competitive, solid field, but it's doubtful any entrant will go on and have a major say in the BC Turf on Oct. 30. That should suit The Tin Man. He may not be what he used to be, but he could show off at a decent price at a 1 1/2-mile trip that's definitely to his liking.

Island Fashion back - but ready?

I was all for Island Fashion's ambitious campaign - the Santa Anita Handicap, even her trip to Japan in the spring. Alas, she has taken a long time to recover. Her big run in the Santa Anita Handicap apparently took enough out of her to leave her low on fuel for the Grade 1 Apple Blossom, where she was well beaten by Azeri. The Japan trip was a debacle. She doesn't like rain or soft turf. Well, it poured all day, the turf was a bog, and she had no chance. Besides that, she returned worn out, meaning the rich distaff races at Hollywood Park and even a shot at the Beverly D. were impossible for her.

So it's good to see that the Marcelo Polanco-trained Island Fashion has worked strongly for her return in Sunday's Grade 2 Lady's Secret at Santa Anita. The 1 1/16-mile race is one of the springboards into the BC Distaff, and the way Island Fashion was going the first quarter of the year, you had to pencil her onto the short list of contenders for that race.

But is she ready to come out breathing fire in the Lady's Secret? After all, she hasn't run in many months. She's training well, but if a trip to Japan can hurt a horse like John Henry, it can certainly do the same to a filly like Island Fashion.

Besides, her connections surely want only a good, strong run to send her on to Lone Star, where she'll need her best to compete if Azeri, Sightseek, and Storm Flag Flying all show up.

It means there's no reason to believe Island Fashion will run her best race Sunday. And if she needs the race, it means she's ripe for defeating.

If so, Summer Wind Dancer might be the right horse. Trained by Jeff Mullins, Summer Wind Dancer has emerged this summer, winning the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap. That was in the slop, though she didn't seem to enjoy the going. She's sharp, and it's likely her connections aren't crazy about going to the Breeders' Cup. She is pointing for Sunday's race.