09/03/2005 12:00AM

Becrux faces more early pressure

Becrux breezes three furlongs in 37.60 Saturday under Luis Jauregui for Monday's Del Mar Derby.

DEL MAR, Calif. - arrived in trainer Neil Drysdale's barn only days before his first start in California, in a division of the Oceanside Stakes on Del Mar's opening day July 20. Drysdale had no idea what to expect. But after Becrux led from start to finish in the Oceanside, then continued to train strongly in subsequent weeks, Drysdale knew he had a top-class runner on his hands.

"He's a very nice horse," Drysdale said Saturday morning.

Becrux will go for the crown jewel for 3-year-old turf horses at Del Mar on Monday, when he meets nine rivals in the Grade 2, $400,000 Del Mar Derby. Thirteen entered the 1 1/8-mile Del Mar Derby, but only 10 can run. Legal Precedent, In Excelsis, and Steal Your Thunder can only get in if a horse in the main body of the race defects. All carry 122 pounds.

The derby is a wide-open race. It includes El Roblar, who won the other division of the Oceanside, and Willow O Wisp, who beat El Roblar in last month's La Jolla Handicap, as well as Italian invader Tedo, the speedy High Limit, and graded stakes winner Osidy.

Saturday, Becrux stayed on edge for the Del Mar Derby by breezing three furlongs in 37.60 seconds on the Del Mar turf with jockey Luis Jauregui aboard. "He got that right. Spot on," Drysdale said after the work.

Garrett Gomez rode Becrux in the Oceanside, but has defected to Willow O Wisp for the Del Mar Derby, so Patrick Valenzuela takes over. Becrux is unlikely to get the same soft trip he had in the one-mile Oceanside. High Limit and Positive Prize, both of whom are drawn inside of Becrux, figure to vie for the lead.

"The race is not going to shape up the same way," Drysdale said. "Tactically, it's different. And obviously we're not sure about the distance yet, are we? But he acts like a horse that will go on."

won the La Jolla while also benefitting by being on or near a soft pace, then coming home quickly. "The time wasn't fast, but he couldn't have come home much faster," said his trainer, Vladimir Cerin.

The La Jolla pace compromised the chances of El Roblar, who finished third in that race after scoring an impressive victory in his division of the Oceanside. El Roblar is reunited with Alex Solis, who rode him in the Oceanside.

High Limit tired to finish fourth in the Hall of Fame Stakes last month at Saratoga in his first start on turf. Edgar Prado, his regular rider, is heading to Del Mar for Monday's race.

Shamoan has returned to California, and the turf, after an extensive road campaign of dirt races in recent months. He most recently finished fourth in the West Virginia Derby after capturing the Iowa Derby. He was third in the La Puente Stakes on turf at Santa Anita earlier this year.

"He likes to travel," said his trainer, Eoin Harty. "He's a hardy horse."

Tedo finished seventh in the Italian Derby in May before scoring a runaway victory in the Grand Prix de Italia in his last start. He was purchased before his last race by bloodstock agent Eugenio Colombo on behalf of Paul Boghossian's Triple B Farms, and only days ago arrived in the United States.

"He just got in here last night," trainer Doug O'Neill said at his Del Mar barn on Saturday morning. "He was in quarantine at Hollywood Park for a couple of days before that. I don't know much about him. He's supposed to have some speed. I know he likes to be on or near the lead. And he's gray."

Osidy has been freshened since finishing second to Willow O Wisp in the Cinema Handicap at Hollywood Park. He defeated Willow O Wisp and Eastern Sand in the Will Rogers prior to that. He should get a super trip from post 2.

Eastern Sand disappointed as the favorite against Becrux in the Oceanside, but he rebounded to win a second-level allowance on this course on Aug. 7.