06/16/2008 11:00PM

Baffert firster a potential star

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The 2-year-old colt Spaniard has never raced, and already he has a reputation as something special.

That happens when your half-sister is champion filly Indian Blessing, when your works are outstanding, and your trainer is Bob Baffert. It goes against protocol to hype a first-time starter, but Baffert has trained enough top colts to know Spaniard could be the real deal.

"I'm excited," Baffert said. "I think he's got a bright future. You never know until you start them, but he has been training really well."

Take it to the bank. Spaniard makes his debut in race 8 Thursday at Hollywood Park, and though 10 others entered the five-furlong maiden race, Spaniard rates marquee billing.

"I haven't really set him down hard," Baffert said, suggesting the son of Candy Ride has been working fast while mostly on his own. Baffert admitted that "I let him run" Sunday, when jockey Mike Smith was aboard Spaniard for a three-furlong work timed in 34.20 seconds, fastest of 23 works at Santa Anita.

"He has speed, but I think he'll run farther," Baffert said. "That's what we're hoping."

Baffert and owner-breeders Hal and Patti Earnhardt followed a similar path last year with Indian Blessing. She won her first three starts, including the Grade 1 Frizette and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

According Baffert, the only similarity between Spaniard and Indian Blessing is that both have superior ability.

"They are two totally different types of horses," Baffert said. "Indian Blessing looks just like [her sire] Indian Charlie, and she is pure gas. Spaniard looks just like Candy Ride, and he is more manageable."

Spaniard, named after the movie character played by Russell Crowe in "Gladiator," is the most highly touted offspring of first-crop sire Candy Ride to race this year. The undefeated 2003 winner of the Pacific Classic, Candy Ride's seven runners so far include one debut winner, El Brujo on June 8 at Woodbine.

The promising first-time starter Speight the Halo is on the also-eligible list. An Eoin Harty-trained son of Speightstown, Speight the Halo was produced by a full sister to champion Ashado, and his half-mile gate work May 28 at Santa Anita in 46.80 was the fastest of 96 works.

Other key entrants include recent runner-up The Final Roar, and Smokey Beau, a full brother to the stakes winner Smoke Smoke Smoke. A good final time Thursday for five furlongs would be about 57.60.