07/16/2007 12:00AM

Vauquelin puts Walsh on the radar

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Trainer Kathy Walsh has never had a stable that commands great attention, to insiders or casual racing observers. That may be about to change this summer at Del Mar.

Vauquelin, who starts in Wednesday's Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar, may push Walsh, 67, back into the spotlight after a few quiet seasons without a leading horse.

An Irish-bred colt who began his career in Europe, Vauquelin starts in the third division of the Oceanside, following a sharp win at Hollywood Park on June 10.

Walsh is hopeful that Vauquelin can develop into a stakes-caliber colt in the second half of the year.

"You really want the horse to be confident and happy," Walsh said on a recent morning. "When he won, he was very comfortable."

Getting Vauquelin this far has not been easy. Foot problems from last winter are behind him, a loss on a synthetic track has been forgotten, and the longer distances that Walsh insists he will prefer are not far away.

Owned by Mark Dedomenico, Vauquelin has won 2 of 9 starts and $107,506. Second in the Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park last fall, Vauquelin finished fourth behind Whatsthescript in the Pasadena Stakes in his comeback in March.

"He wasn't really on top of his game," Walsh said. "He came up at little empty. He didn't get a lot out of the race."

After finishing third in the La Puente Stakes in April, Vauquelin finished fourth on the synthetic track at Hollywood Park on May 3, but was a convincing winner of an allowance race on turf on June 10.

"I made a mistake running him on the Cushion Track," Walsh said in June, referring to the May race. "He swam on it."

Walsh is as optimistic about Vauqelin's chances for the $400,000 Del Mar Derby at 1 1/8 miles on Sept. 2 as she is for the Oceanside.

"I think he wants to go a little farther than a mile," she said.

Walsh has a successful history in the Oceanside. Walsh, who trains 19 horses, won a division of the race in 2003 with Devious Boy and was third in a 2004 division with Hippocrates.

The 2004 and 2005 seasons were otherwise quiet ones for Walsh, with six wins each year. Last year, she had seven victories, and this year she already has five.

"My problem is we had some decent mares and we retired them," she said. "I knew that going in. If we get them stakes-placed, we sold them. They'll pay crazy money for them."

Nany's Sweep gave Walsh her first Grade 1 win in the 2001 Santa Monica Handicap. She has had numerous other stakes winners in this decade, including Abbey Bridge, Blazonry, Evening Promise, and Islay Mist.

A serious woman with a gracious smile, Walsh has trained for nearly 40 years, following the career of her father, Jim, who died in 1970. She won four training titles at defunct Longacres in Washington and two at Canterbury Downs - now Canterbury Park - in the late 1980s.

"It was great times" at Longacres, Walsh said. "It was very sad that racetrack closed."

Asked if she has been given credit for helping women break into racing, particularly in the Northwest, she appeared uncomfortable for a moment.

"How do you ever really know in this game," she said.

Pam Gomez, the wife of top jockey Garrett Gomez, worked for Walsh as an assistant trainer for more than eight years before getting married.

"She's a tough one," Pam Gomez said. "She's very old-school. She learned everything the hard way, and she expects people to work hard. I galloped for a guy that said she's a Van Berg with a bra.

"She's never been the sort of trainer looking for the camera. She didn't want that part of racing. She's more about the horses and getting them to perform. She's very loyal to her horses and the people that she works for."

Personally, Walsh has rebounded after undergoing knee replacement surgery last year.

"I should have that doctor do a few of my horses, if he can do that well with me," she said.

In addition to Vauquelin, Walsh is optimistic about the maiden Georgie Boy and an unraced 2-year-old filly named Unusually Hot.

"We've got a different group of horses now," she said. "I've got more 2-year-olds. I've got some young horses that look okay."

The stable may look very okay if Vauquelin runs to expectations on Wednesday.