09/19/2003 12:00AM

Track bias victim will be favorite again

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POMONA, Calif. - Alibis are not required when a horse loses by a nose. But hours before 3-2 favorite Don'tsellmeshort was scheduled to run in the $100,000 I'm Smokin Stakes at Del Mar, trainer Dan Hendricks said he knew he was in trouble.

"I knew I was beaten after the second race, and we weren't running until the fifth," he said.

Hendricks could see the unpredictable track bias that typified the Del Mar season was working against him. He was right. Don'tsellmeshort set the pace, fell victim to the rally-wide bias, and lost by a nose to a deep closer. The gray colt, by Benchmark, came out of the Sept. 8 race in top shape and will be favored again Sunday at Fairplex Park, heading a field of nine in the $100,000 Barretts Juvenile.

The 6 1/2-furlong race for 2-year-olds is restricted to horses offered for sale at Barretts, and includes a modest cast. Beyond the fact he is the fastest horse in the race, Don'tsellmeshort is the only entrant whose resume includes more than a maiden victory. In all likelihood, the main rival for Don'tsellmeshort is still a maiden.

I'm Awesome Again, who set the pace to midstretch before tiring in his comeback, figures to move up a ton second start back for trainer Doug O'Neill. Presumption and Rush Into Heaven each won $100,000 maiden-claiming races. The other five starters are in steep: Devoted Lover, Prince Quiet, Lil' Bro Eddie, Fountain Grove, and Up a Creek.

Don'tsellmeshort figures to start as the overwhelming favorite. Owned by Cecil Peacock, he raced gate to wire July 30 in the Graduation Stakes, before losing the I'm Smokin. Ryan Fogelsonger takes over on the front-runner, who will be racing Sunday over a track that is kind to his style. Don'tsellmeshort has won 2 of 5 starts, and earned $136,113.

The maiden I'm Awesome Again could be poised for an upset. He finished third in his May 14 debut, then was sidelined three months with tender shins. O'Neill's assistant trainer Leandro Mora offers two reasons for I'm Awesome Again's presence in the race.

"One, we're taking a shot. Two, we think the horse is capable of better than he showed," Mora said.

The son of Awesome Again has trained well since his fifth-place comeback, and should fall into a good trip racing just off the pace. Tyler Baze rides the colt. O'Neill also entered Lil' Bro Eddie, a claiming horse who picks up leading rider Martin Pedroza.