10/11/2003 12:00AM

BC-bound Cactus Ridge tightens up

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STICKNEY, Ill. - The 2-year-old colt Cactus Ridge left his connections enthused with a half-mile work Saturday at Hawthorne, his penultimate breeze before the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Working by himself, with his race-rider Eddie Martin in the irons, Cactus Ridge was officially timed in 49.40 seconds for a half-mile, though his trainer, Bret Calhoun, said Cactus Ridge worked five furlongs in just over 1:02. Calhoun sent Cactus Ridge to the track just after training began at 6 a.m. in order, he said, "to get the tightest track possible."

Cactus Ridge's half-mile time was the ninth fastest of 45 works at the distance Saturday, but the idea wasn't to put speed into Cactus Ridge. Cactus Ridge already has plenty of that, and Calhoun hopes just to get Cactus Ridge to the Breeders' Cup healthy, happy, and fit to negotiate his first trip around two turns.

"Eddie said he just sat on him and he did everything he asked him to do," Calhoun said. "He said he smooched to him just a little, and he got thrown back in his seat. The horse just exploded."

Calhoun plans to give Cactus Ridge another work on Saturday. Cactus Ridge will breeze either five or six furlongs, depending upon how tiring Hawthorne's track surface is at the time.

The rash of recent defections from the Juvenile has left Cactus Ridge as one of the favorites in the race.

"I'm surprised so many of them have decided to come out," said Calhoun. "Everybody's worried about the Juvenile jinx. I want to run today and worry about the Kentucky Derby later."

Half of field won last time out

There are 10 horses in Hawthorne's featured eighth race on Monday, and no fewer than five of them are coming off wins. The musty "last-race-winner" handicapping angle will not get you far in this race.

Certainly no horse in the race - a second-level allowance at six furlongs - improved more during this season than Red River Aggie, who was beaten by more than 39 lengths when he ran at Hawthorne last spring, but comes into Wednesday's race with three wins and two places in his last six starts. Trained by Ron Goodridge, Red River Aggie found himself at Arlington and held his best form from June to September. He has strong early speed and can carry it up to seven furlongs, but the question with Red River Aggie is whether he can handle the Hawthorne track. He has run here seven times with merely one place finish to show for his efforts.

The horse in the race who does like Hawthorne is Cat Crusher, who may go off somewhat overlooked because he makes his first start since June.