01/15/2004 12:00AM

All eyes on Rocky Gulch


SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - Saturday's $125,000-added Pepsi Cola Handicap for statebred 3-year-olds going six furlongs has drawn a field of six, but all eyes will be cast on one horse, Larry Teague's homebred Rocky Gulch.

After five career races, Rocky Gulch has impressed many local observers as the best New Mexico-bred since Bold Ego, who finished second to Pleasant Colony in the 1981 Preakness. Time will tell, but right now Rocky Gulch is certainly the best member of the 2001 crop.

After Rocky Gulch's 15-length win in the Rio Grande Futurity at Ruidoso in mid-July, trainer Terry Walker put him away in order to wait for the riches of the Sunland meet. Running a mile for the first time and coming off a nearly five-month layoff, Rocky Gulch won the Red Hedeman Mile on Dec. 6, getting six furlongs in 1:10.05 and finishing in 1:36.46. Rocky Gulch easily answered any questions about his ability to get two turns. And his trainer firmly believes the best is yet to come.

"He came out of that mile race really well, and has been training just super," Walker said Thursday morning. "I really look for him to run big on Saturday."

And what then? Walker, speaking in the wait-and-see mode of most experienced horsemen, has tentative plans to run Rocky Gulch in the Borderland Derby, a $100,000-added race for open company at one mile on Feb. 29.

Both Walker and Rocky Gulch's jockey, Mike Clark, think he has room to improve.

"He's a developing young horse with a long stride," Walker said. "Right now I just don't know what his limits are, but we feel like we have to take him as far as he can go. If we reach his limits, we can always run against statebreds."

Two horses stand out above the rest for the exacta-trifecta bettor. The Joel Marr-trained Jonnygetachex stayed with Rocky Gulch for a half in the Hedeman, and finished second, beaten 3 1/2 lengths. He is a stakes winner in his own right. Hecamefromaclaim, trained by Todd Fincher, was an early developer and boasts the only win over Rocky Gulch, last April in the Copper Top Futurity here.

Hecamefromaclaim hasn't run since he finished second to Rocky Gulch in the Rio Grande Futurity last July, but he has a series of solid works for Saturday's race.