06/17/2001 11:00PM

Until Sundown - or until the Swaps


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Let's not jump the gun.

So far we've got no more than a coincidence. An unraced late-bloomer emerges at Santa Anita as a 3-year-old, shows immediate promise in a handful of starts, then wins the Affirmed Handicap with a dead game effort in his graded stakes debut at Hollywood Park.

If this sounds familiar, it should. From such modest beginnings grew a beast named Tiznow just one year ago. He went from the Affirmed to Horse of the Year in a matter of five subsequent starts, culminating in his victory over European Horse of the Year Giant's Causeway in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Now comes Until Sundown, with a name like a Tennessee Williams play and a record that requires attention, especially now that most of the best

3-year-olds are busy licking their Triple Crown wounds inflicted by Point Given.

With his victory in the Affirmed Handicap on Sunday, Until Sundown emerged as the new kid on a block already crowded with talent. When he runs in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park next month, he must deal with such proven commodities as Millennium Wind, Hero's Tribute, and Crafty C.T. But let's save that for later. Right now, Laura De Seroux would prefer to linger on the satisfaction of the Affirmed.

De Seroux began last Sunday with a call to her father, retired railroad engineer Walter Lubisich, and recommended that he tune into the races at Hollywood Park for his Father's Day present. For the race, she sat in Charlie Whittingham's former clubhouse box seat, on a chair next to Charlie's traditional spot. The Affirmed was her first win in a graded stakes.

"I'll have to admit, it was a pretty emotional day," De Seroux said. As Laura Lubisich, she was an exercise rider for Whittingham. Her husband, Emmanuel De Seroux, is one of the industry's most successful bloodstock agents, brokering such multi-million dollar stallions as Timber Country and Lammtarra to Japanese clients. Together, Laura and Emmanuel have operated Narvick International, and for the last three years Laura has trained a string of horses owned by such Narvick patrons as Sid Port, co-owner of Until Sundown.

De Seroux trains her horses at San Luis Rey Downs, about 30 miles northeast of coastal Del Mar. De Seroux compares her situation to south Florida, where a number of top stables train at Payson Park and ship south for racing at Gulfstream. "The weather is beautiful here, and I have five huge turn-out pens where we can turn horses out all day long," the trainer said. "That's so healthy for them.

"But I do keep stalls at the racetracks, and I make darn sure the horses are as familiarized with their surroundings as they would be if they were living there."

Until Sundown gets his name from his paternal grandsire, Mr. Prospector, in keeping with the wild west angle. "You know," De Seroux said, "As in, 'You've got until sundown to get out of town.' "

So far, the threat has not been idle. The son of Smart Strike won his maiden race on March 11, won a subsequent allowance race, and then finished second in the restricted Alydar Stakes on May 23. "Before the Alydar he was at Hollywood eight days," De Seroux said. "He had a good work, but he did not eat as well as he did at home. For the Affirmed, we trained at home last Saturday morning, shipped and schooled, then ran on Sunday.

"After the race, he was cooling out as if he hadn't run," she added. "I'm in awe of him. He's got one of the best minds I've ever been around. He's not afraid of anything."

De Seroux, who is 49, has been around more than a few good runners. She worked for Whittingham when the stable led the nation in purse earnings five times between 1970 and 1975. She was later a racing adviser to the Summa Stable of the controversial sports entrepreneur Bruce McNall, then went to work full time with Narvick.

But just like the ambitious actor who wants to direct, De Seroux has always wanted to train. She has assembled a good team at San Luis Rey, including assistant Alex Hassinger, trainer of Breeders' Cup winners Eliza and Anees. Thanks to Whittingham, De Seroux got hooked on San Luis Rey a long time ago. At the peak of his business, Whittingham kept a large stable of horses at San Luis Rey under the care of his brother, Joe Whittingham, and then later Robert St. Cyr.

"I used to fly with Charlie on a small plane from El Monte airport, near Santa Anita, to San Luis Rey on Mondays," De Seroux added. "I'd get to look at a hundred horses down here. Now I'm stabled right across from Charlie's old barn." She is handling Until Sundown as if Whittingham were whispering in her ear.

"I'm following Charlie's modus operandi," she said. "Stay home as much as possible."

She did confess, however, that Tiznow's record has been an inspiration, except that - unlike Tiznow - she does not envision her colt finishing second in the Swaps.