01/18/2006 1:00AM

Bob and John the one to watch

Bob and John gets to show Friday whether he's as good as advertised.

ARCADIA, Calif. - January is too early to ponder the Kentucky Derby. The immediate concern is race 6 - an allowance route for Derby hopefuls - Friday at Santa Anita. So do you believe in the favorite, or not?

is either the biggest cinch on the card or the most overrated 3-year-old in California. He can prove it one way or the other when he faces eight others in the first-condition allowance at a 1 1/16 miles.

"He looks awesome right now. He's really changing," trainer Bob Baffert said. It is a good thing, because as a 2-year-old Bob and John was a narrow-bodied, nervous, stall-walking colt with only potential. It has not taken long for him to grow, mature, and improve.

Bob and John has raced five times and moved forward in each start. "By spring, he should really be something," Baffert said.

He is getting there fast, and his third-place finish in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 17 will make him the favorite Friday in a strong field of promising colts.

has "a ton of untapped potential," according to his trainer, Eoin Harty. Also adding quality to the field is comebacker Sacred Light.

and Twisting Road will try to upgrade their modest Beyer Speed Figures. The trainers of both virtually guarantee improvement. Sensational Score finished third in a Dec. 28 allowance, earning a tepid 74 Beyer Figure that is 20 points below the entry-level allowance par for 3-year-olds. It was his first try on dirt, and he needed the start.

"He should move way forward," trainer Mike Machowsky said, adding that Sensational Score had a minor problem that forced him to miss training. "This race will decide what direction we'll have to take."

Twisting Road added blinkers Dec. 28 and won a low-rated (83 Beyer) maiden race. Harty believes he has more to offer. "I really like this horse," he said "If he runs bad, I'll be suicidal."

Although Bob and John ran well twice at Hollywood, Baffert said he is "a better horse" at Santa Anita.

The richest race on the card is the seventh, a one-mile turf allowance with a $65,000 purse that attracted Geronimo, Terroplane, Rhythm Mad, Fast and Furious, and lone speed Uncle Denny.