09/14/2003 11:00PM

Touch of the Blues changes his luck

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Neil Drysdale shipped Touch of the Blues here last September with a long-range plan.

The Atto Mile was to serve as the first of two stepping-stones to the Breeders' Cup Mile, along with an interim appearance in Keeneland's Shadwell Turf Mile.

But not much went right for Touch of the Blues as he finished a troubled fifth here, forced to check hard in deep stretch while closing stoutly on the inside.

After rallying late and wide to end second, beaten a neck, in the Shadwell Mile, Touch of the Blues wound up 10th in the BC Mile at Arlington Park after barely averting disaster when a rival, Landseer, broke down right in front of him at the top of the stretch.

This year, Touch of the Blues began his fall program with a 1 3/4-length victory here in Sunday's Grade 1, $1 million Atto Mile.

"He probably should have been second in [the Atto Mile] last year," said Drysdale, back at his Hollywood Park base Monday morning "He ran very well in the Shadwell Mile, but in the Breeders' Cup he ran right into the back of Landseer. He was very lucky not to be injured."

Trouble had seemed to be more the norm than the exception for Touch of the Blues, a 6-year-old who is a dyed-in-the-wool miler with a closing style that often has complicated his task.

"He's been, over the years, fairly unlucky," Drysdale said. "He probably should have won a Group 1 before this."

Drysdale had said before the Atto Mile that Touch of the Blues would need "a fast pace and a clean trip," and Desormeaux did the rest, saving ground before swinging him out for the stretch and driving him home in relatively routine fashion.

"He rode him very well," Drysdale said. "He let him settle, then came with a nice run, and he had something to aim at."

Following the same blueprint as last year, Touch of the Blues will remain at Woodbine to prepare for the Grade 1, $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland on Oct. 4.

Then, all being well, Touch of the Blues will take another crack at the Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.

Sarafan falls back into bad habits

Drysdale was less enthralled with the performance of Sarafan, his other Atto Mile entrant, as the 6-year-old gelding threw in a rare indifferent effort while finishing eighth, beaten eight lengths.

Sarafan's rider, Corey Nakatani, adjusted his saddle behind the gate, and the gelding acted up badly before loading into post 1.

"He got himself in a tizzy going into the gate," said Drysdale. "He hasn't misbehaved in the gate in two years; he was a bad gate horse when we first got him.

"He just wasn't himself at all. He didn't do much racing. That's the first bad race he's run in a couple of years."

Sarafan was slated to leave Woodbine on Monday night and will rejoin Drysdale at Hollywood Park.

While Sarafan could return to action in the Grade 1, $250,000 Clement L. Hirsch Memorial, a 1 1/4-mile turf race at Santa Anita on Sept. 28, Drysdale said he is more likely to await the Grade 2, $250,000 Oak Tree Mile over the same course Oct. 5.

Second Atto victory for winning connections

Drysdale, Desormeaux, and the Gainsborough Farm of Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum recorded their second Atto Mile victory with Touch of the Blues, having teamed up to take the 1998 running with Labeeb.

The Drysdale-trained Hawksley Hill also finished first in the 1999 Atto Mile but was disqualified and placed fourth.

For Desormeaux, Sunday's Atto Mile result more than compensated for what had started out as a bad day here.

Desormeaux had finished third aboard Commendation in the day's fourth race, the Grade 2 Summer Stakes, but his mount was disqualified and placed last after being found guilty of interference on the final turn.

The stewards handed Desormeaux a three-day suspension, which he plans to serve this Thursday through Saturday, but the jockey was granted an exemption to ride in Saturday's Super Derby at Louisiana Downs if he has a mount there.

* Touch of the Blues could be one of four rides that Desormeaux has lined up for Breeders' Cup Day. The jockey also hopes to be aboard Publication in the Sprint, Dublino in the Filly and Mare Turf, and Ballingarry in the Turf.

* The Atto Mile card was a commercial success, as the all-sources handle on the 11-race card was $5,210,580, just shy of last year's Atto Mile Day record of $5,214,431.