03/30/2006 12:00AM

Beware of Baffert's pair in WinStar Derby


For Bob Baffert, it has been a case of close but no cigar. A trainer well known for winning derbies of all kinds, Baffert has yet to win the WinStar Derby at Sunland Park. He has a good chance to change that on Saturday when he sends out likely favorite Wanna Runner and his uncoupled stablemate, the very capable Sky Diving, in the $600,000 , a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds.

The marquee event of the meet, the WinStar Derby has lured a field of nine. The derby goes as the seventh race on a 12-race card, which features three other stakes.

Baffert has sent out five runners in the three runnings of this race, and while he has yet to win, he has had some good results - Spensive and Apalachian Thunder were second and third in 2003, Consecrate and Teton Forest were second and sixth in 2004, and Sort It Out was third behind Thor's Echo last year.

Wanna Runner has faced strong company and flashed much potential. He won his maiden impressively at Hollywood Park in the fall and came right back to beat allowance foes at Santa Anita in the winter. In January he finished third behind top Derby hopeful Brother Derek and 2-year-old champion Stevie Wonderboy in the Grade 2 San Rafael. But then came a disappointing run when he finished fifth in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby behind northern California's top 3-year-old Cause to Believe in late January.

Wanna Runner hasn't run since the El Camino Real Derby. He adds blinkers and will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.

Sky Diving adds blinkers after finishing last of nine in the Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita. Before that he was second, beaten a length in the Turf Paradise Derby on Feb. 16. Sky Diving won a maiden race by 14 lengths at Bay Meadows in January.

With Indy Wildcat, winner of the main prep for this race, the Borderland Derby, running in next Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, the main local hope is Wait in Line. He rallied strongly to miss by a head when second to Indy Wildcat in the Borderland Derby. Wait in Line, trained by Chris Hartman, will run coupled with Belligerence.

Keagan invades from Turf Paradise for trainer Eric Kruljac. He rallied to beat Sky Diving in the Turf Paradise Derby on Feb. 11. Prior to that, Keagan won the Fool the Experts and Arizona Juvenile, both sprints at Turf Paradise.

Doctor Decherd, trained by Steve Asmussen, finished eighth as the 6-5 favorite in the Borderland. Before that he was sixth behind Barbaro in the Grade 3 Holy Bull and won the Aventura at Gulfstream.

Sunland Park offered a $500,000 bonus to any horse who could sweep the Borderland, WinStar, and Kentucky derbies. But with Indy Wildcat passing this race, there will be no bonus payout.

A familiar scenario in Henson

Last year Homemaker rattled off two big allowance wins at Sunland Park, then went in the Harry Henson and got her head handed to her by Blue Song, who beat her by 18-plus lengths.

Well, 2006 looks awfully similar for Homemaker, who goes against Blue Song again in Saturday's $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap. The mile event for fillies and mares lured a field eight. The Henson goes as the eighth race on the card.

Like last year, Homemaker comes into the Henson off two rallying allowance wins, both at a mile. Joe Martinez rides.

Blue Song won last year's Harry Henson as part of a sensational season that saw her win 8 of 12. This year she has run twice, finishing third to Saturday foes Plaid and Peace Symbol in an allowance race here Jan. 24 and then second to Red Lifesaver, whom she faces again here, in the Santa Teresa here March 12. Ken Tohill rides.

Plaid and Red Lifesaver make for a potent entry for trainer Steve Asmussen. Plaid has won 3 of her last 5, while Red Lifesaver comes off her Santa Teresa win.

Breeders Derby: 'Latenite' on rebound

Also on the card is the $100,000 New Mexico Breeders Derby, which goes as the 11th race. The mile handicap for New Mexico-bred 3-year-olds lured a field of 10 headed by Latenite Band, who looks to get back on track after blowing the start and finishing fifth in the Jan. 14 Pepsi Cola Handicap at Sunland. Before that Latenite Band won the Red Hedeman Mile here Dec. 18. He won an allowance race and George Maloof Futurity at Albuquerque last September.

Da Candy Man won the Pepsi Cola using his speed for his third win in a row. He came back in an overnight handicap here, finishing fourth behind Matchstick Man, Manolito, and John Clements, who are all back for this race.

An interesting entrant is Plan N X S, who won his maiden here Feb. 21 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 88, easily the best figure in the field.