10/19/2005 11:00PM

BC Classic: Rock Hard Ten all set to travel

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Benoit & Associates
Rock Hard Ten, under exercise rider Paul Nilluang, works seven furlongs in 1:25.60 shortly before Thursday's first race at Santa Anita.

ELMONT, N.Y. - While trainers here at Belmont Park, worried about rain this weekend, checked their training schedules and kept on eye on The Weather Channel on Thursday to plan their final Breeder's Cup workouts, the weather had finally broken in California, allowing trainer Richard Mandella to get a key workout into Rock Hard Ten, who will seek to enhance his Horse of the Year credentials in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 29 at Belmont Park.

Mandella initially had wanted to work Rock Hard Ten earlier this week, but wet weather Monday and Tuesday at Santa Anita left the track not to Mandella's liking on Wednesday. So, he waited until Thursday.

"I wanted the track to dry out," Mandella said.

Rock Hard Ten worked a half-hour before the first race, in company with stablemate Dixie Glow, and was timed in 1:25.60 for seven furlongs with his regular exercise rider, Paul Nilluang.

"That's the same way we've done it all summer. Not too hard, not too easy," Mandella said.

Rock Hard Ten is coming off a victory in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, his fourth straight victory since Mandella took over as his trainer. The Goodwood was Rock Hard Ten's first start in nearly seven months. Thursday's work was his second since the race, and very well might be his last, so Mandella wanted the horse to work later in the day rather than in the morning to better approximate race conditions.

"They think it's a little more like a race and they can work two seconds faster than expected, but he did it nicely," Mandella said. "He was under a pretty big hold."

Rock Hard Ten is scheduled to be flown to New York this weekend. Mandella said Rock Hard Ten could have an open gallop, exercise just short of a timed workout, next week at Belmont.

Rock Hard Ten has won three starts this calendar year - the Strub Stakes, Santa Anita Handicap, and Goodwood - but his campaign began Dec. 26, when he won the Malibu Stakes in his first start in 4 1/2 months. He will have an excellent shot at Horse of the Year should he win the Classic, but he must get past Borrego and Saint Liam, two other Classic runners with Eclipse Award aspirations.

"The way he ran the other day, I'm very confident that he's as good as any man's horse," Mandella said.

Mandella won the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2003 with Pleasantly Perfect, one of four races he won that day, a Breeders' Cup single-day record. He won two other Breeders' Cup races in 1993, giving him a record of 6 wins from 27 starters.

Mandella is reluctant to compare Rock Hard Ten to Pleasantly Perfect, but did allow that "they're both big, strong, good-looking horses who can really run, and that's good enough for me."

Sixteen horses were pre-entered in the Classic. A maximum of 14 can run. The current field is A Bit O'Gold (Jono Jones the rider), Borrego (Garrett Gomez), Choctaw Nation (Victor Espinoza), Flower Alley (John Velazquez), Jack Sullivan (Frankie Dettori), Oratorio (Kieran Fallon), Perfect Drift (Mark Guidry), Rock Hard Ten (Gary Stevens), Saint Liam (Jerry Bailey), Sir Shackleton (Javier Castellano), Starcraft (Patrick Valenzuela), Suave (Edgar Prado), Sun King (Rafael Bejarano), and Super Frolic. Lord of the Game and A.P. Arrow are alternates.

The Breeders' Cup is now one week away, and there is the real possibility that weather will impact training. The National Weather Service was calling for showers beginning on Friday and lasting through Monday. There is also the possibility that Hurricane Wilma could track north as a storm after making landfall in the southern United States and arrive here by the middle of next week. All that, combined with the cooling temperatures - the high Thursday was 60, and the lows dipped into the 40's - were sure indications that fall had arrived.

"My work schedule depends on the weather," said John Sadler, who already has brought Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup winner Healthy Addiction here from California for the Distaff. "I was going to work her on Sunday, but I might have to move it up to Saturday."

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen