07/18/2004 11:00PM

Baffert returns with dynamic duo


DEL MAR, Calif. - Shaq and Kobe are no longer together with the Lakers, but they could be vying for a championship at Del Mar this summer. Christian's Eagle (nicknamed Shaq) and Roman Ruler (Kobe) are two of the top colts trained by Bob Baffert, who has the strength in both talent and numbers to reclaim his position as the dominant trainer of 2-year-olds at Del Mar.

There was a hiccup last year. Baffert won the closing-day Del Mar Futurity a record seven straight years from 1996 through 2002. He had five runners in the race in 2002 and swept the first three spots. Last year, however, Baffert had just one runner in the Futurity, Cooperation, who finished fourth of five.

Baffert appears loaded this summer. Roman Ruler, a son of the red-hot first-crop sire Fusaichi Pegasus, was a dazzling winner of his debut June 19 at Hollywood Park. He skipped last weekend's Hollywood Juvenile Championship in order to point for Del Mar's Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 15 and the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 8.

Christian's Eagle, a son of Seattle Slew, has yet to race but is nearing his debut. His dam is a half-brother to Epsom Derby winner Benny the Dip.

The first open maiden race of the meet is scheduled for Saturday. Baffert's assistant, Jim Barnes, said Monday that the barn will send out two well-regarded runners, the first-time starters Fusaichi Rock Star and Compulsive. Fusaichi Rock Star flew through five furlongs Monday morning in 58.20 seconds, the best time of 37 at the distance.

Baffert also has Actxecutive, who finished second in the Hollywood Juvenile to the division's leader, Chandtrue, and the Golden Missile filly Inspiring, who will be one of the top choices in the Sorrento Stakes on Aug. 7. Inspiring was a four-length winner against maidens at Hollywood Park. My Miss Storm Cat, who won her debut and then finished third to Souvenir Gift in Hollywood Park's Landaluce Stakes, is sidelined with sore shins.

Souvenir Gift, the leader of the filly division for trainer Sam Semkin, will race in the Sorrento and then the Del Mar Debutante on Aug. 28.

Richard Mandella swept Del Mar's major races for 2-year-olds last year, winning the Debutante with Halfbridled and the Futurity with Siphonizer, who beat stablemate Minister Eric.

"Unfortunately, I haven't seen anything that will duplicate Halfbridled or Siphonizer or Minister Eric," Mandella said Monday morning at Del Mar.

Mandella said his best runner this summer might be Never at Dusk, a son of Pulpit. He also likes Cleft, an A.P. Indy filly who ran once at Hollywood Park, but Mandella said he does not think Cleft will be at her best until she stretches out around two turns, and that might not happen until the fall at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

Bob Hess Jr., who trains Chandtrue, will try to emulate Mandella's 2003 sweep. Chandtrue, who is unbeaten, is awaiting the Futurity. Hess said his best chance for the Debutante might be Savanna Charm, a Silver Charm filly who is scheduled to make her debut the first half of the meet.

Mike Harrington always has a precocious crop of 2-year-olds, many sired by Swiss Yodeler. Swiss Silver defeated California-breds on June 30, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 90. He should turn up in the Graduation Stakes on July 28. Roman Jake, a gelding by the Red Ransom stallion Trail City, was third to Roman Ruler in his debut and then second to Golden Shine on July 3. After those sharp efforts in open company, Roman Jake dips into a race restricted to Cal-breds, Wednesday's fifth race.

Also in Wednesday's fifth is Proud Tower Too, who was second to Swiss Silver on June 30. Proud Tower Too is now trained by Sal Gonzalez, who has replaced Joe Parga as the trainer of the Tricar Stables runners.

Golden Shine, a son of Touch Gold trained by David Hofmans, is awaiting the Best Pal Stakes and a showdown with Roman Ruler.

Laura de Seroux says she has high hopes for All Deuces Wild, a filly by Rahy who is a full sister to multiple stakes winner Tranquility Lake.

"She's getting close to a race," de Seroux said.

Trainer Eoin Harty does not have the large numbers of 2-year-olds he did in years past for Godolphin Racing. His barn, which now is exclusively for Darley Stable, has runners of all age groups, and thus fewer 2-year-olds. Still, Harty should have a couple worth following over the next seven weeks. His assistant, Alex Hassinger Jr., said Monday that the stable's best hopes were Blue Corner, a Two Punch colt who ran once at Hollywood and should improve with added distance, and Conniving, a cleverly named daughter of Machiavellian.