07/25/2005 11:00PM

Baffert cookin' with gas

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Roman Ruler will have one more work before shipping for the Haskell.

DEL MAR, Calif. - The past year for Bob Baffert has not measured up to the standards set by the trainer over the previous decade, but his barn is heating up, going from a simmer to a boil.

Baffert's best 2-year-old of last year, Roman Ruler, has rebounded from foot troubles that plagued him last fall and this spring. Tuesday, Roman Ruler recorded a swift workout that kept him on course for a bout against Afleet Alex in the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 7. In addition, Baffert in the past three days sent out a pair of 2-year-old colts for eye-catching victories against maidens, and had a highly regarded filly make a successful return.

Roman Ruler, with exercise rider Dana Barnes aboard, worked seven furlongs in 1:24 over a fast main track Tuesday morning. It was his second work at Del Mar; Baffert said he worked six furlongs in 1:11 on July 20, but the work did not make the tab.

Roman Ruler has never won a two-turn 1 1/8-mile race, the conditions of the Haskell. He finished behind Afleet Alex the only time they met, in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"We're trying to find out what his best distance is," Baffert said. "If he relaxes like he did the other day," Baffert said, referring to his victory in the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park, "he can run as far as he wants."

Baffert said he has had trouble making suitable travel arrangements to Monmouth for Roman Ruler. He said Roman Ruler is scheduled to have one more work here next week before shipping.

"We don't have to make that call until next week," he said.

Midnight Lute: Good night

Baffert has maintained for months that this is his strongest crop of 2-year-olds, and he has gone about proving it. What a Song won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship, and the first week at Del Mar, Baffert won with two other colts, Midnight Lute and Enforcement.

Midnight Lute, making his debut on Monday, was dazzling. A big, long-striding son of 1998 Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet, Midnight Lute broke a step slowly in the six-furlong race, moved powerfully entering the far turn to go after the leaders, then drew away late under jockey Patrick Valenzuela.

"He ran to his works, that's the main thing," Baffert said of Midnight Lute, who had recorded a sharp work over the track one week earlier. "He's got a huge stride on him. When he didn't break, I thought, 'Next time.' But Pat didn't rush him. He did a good job gathering himself up."

Midnight Lute is named for Lute Olson, the University of Arizona basketball coach. The name, according to Baffert, reflects a nickname former basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian gave Olson after Olson swooped in at the last minute and nabbed a high school recruit both coaches were pursuing.

Enforcement was making his second start on Sunday. He won by four lengths under Victor Espinoza. Baffert said Enforcement, a son of Tiznow, might head to Saratoga for the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes.

"Those two, the longer the better," Baffert said.

Behaving Badly stakes-bound

It took nearly a year to get Behaving Badly back to the races, but it was worth it. Now 4, Behaving Badly cruised to victory in a first-level allowance race on Sunday. She was a fast winner here last summer against maidens in her only previous start.

"She had a weird injury to her hock," Baffert said. "A tiny fracture. She just needed time. She was awesome. She has always been awesome. She's a New York-bred, so she'll find her way to New York eventually."

For now, though, Baffert said he has his sights set on the Grade 3, $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 19.

San Clemente draws a crowd

There were 25 3-year-old fillies nominated to the Grade 2, $150,000 San Clemente Handicap at one mile on the turf on Saturday, and most of them were nominated to run. Only 10 will be permitted to start, however, and under the conditions of the race, high weights are preferred.

That led to an odd occurrence in the racing office on Monday. A trainer was pleading with racing officials to put more weight on his horse. When the weights were released later in the day, he got his wish and was in the top 10.

The highweight, at 120 pounds, is Louvain, the Bobby Frankel-trained filly who won the Flawlessly Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 4. Memorette is next with 119.

Conveyor's Angel, who was fourth in the Flawlessly, got 118, as did Thatswhatimean.

"Louvain got the jump on us last time," said Christopher Paasch, the trainer of Conveyor's Angel. "If my filly has a clean trip, I think she can be right there. She's a big, beautiful, long-striding filly. I can't wait to see her go a mile and an eighth in the [Del Mar] Oaks."

No mystery to Paasch

Mystery Girl, a 2-year-old Stormy Atlantic filly who romped by four lengths against maidens last Saturday, could make her next start in the Grade 3, $150,000 Sorrento Stakes on Aug. 6, Paasch said.

"She's possible for the Sorrento, and probable for the Debutante," Paasch said.

The Del Mar Debutante is a Grade 1, $250,000 race on Aug. 27.

"We're also looking at races back East, in Saratoga and the Florida Stallion Series at Calder," Paasch said.

Paasch has another top filly, Diplomat Lady, and said he wants to keep both fillies apart.

"If Diplomat Lady breezes well this weekend, I think she will go in the Sorrento," he said.

Ticker Tape has infection

Ticker Tape, who turned in an uncharacteristically dull performance when finishing last in the John C. Mabee Handicap last Saturday, was found to have an elevated white blood-cell count, trainer Jim Cassidy said Tuesday morning.

"Leg-wise, she's okay. Everything's cold," Cassidy said. "I had some blood work done on her, and her white count was up. She has a low-grade infection. We're treating her with antibiotics. It's nothing serious. She should be able to go back to the track and train."

* Pico Central was assigned top weight of 123 pounds for the Grade 1, $300,000 Bing Crosby Handicap on Sunday. Areyoutalkintome and Battle Won are next at 116. Battle Won worked a half-mile in 47.60 seconds on Tuesday morning at Del Mar.

* With a triple on Monday, including a victory aboard Midnight Lute, Valenzuela leads the jockey race after week one, with 10 victories. Espinoza is second with nine. Baffert and Doug O'Neill are tied for leading trainer with five victories each.