07/08/2004 12:00AM

Boomzeeboom big threat to Rock Hard Ten


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Five months and five starts since his flashy debut victory, faces a familiar rival Saturday at Hollywood Park - the curse of high expectations.

Five others also entered the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Swaps Stakes for 3-year-olds, including front-runner - but most attention will be focused on Rock Hard Ten, and deservedly so. The good-looking colt may be a standout while dropping from Grade 1 competition into a $400,000 race against Boomzeeboom, Capitano, Suave, Bear in the Woods, and Brands Hatch.

The hype has been full tilt on Rock Hard Ten since his Feb. 7 debut. He is well bred (by Kris S., out of a Mr. Prospector mare), large-sized, and in the first two starts of his career ran so fast (101 and 99 Beyer Speed Figures) that the sky seemed the limit. Rock Hard Ten proved fallible, of course, finishing second across the wire in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and the Preakness. The backlash was predictable. He was not a star, yet.

"It probably worked the other way, people expected too much from him," trainer Jason Orman said. "For a horse to run second in the Santa Anita Derby and second in the Preakness . . . he really hasn't done anything wrong."

The question is, have the colt's connections done wrong pushing Rock Hard Ten to do too much, too soon? Orman, along with owners Ernie Moody and Madeleine Paulson, will find the answer on Saturday. The Swaps is Rock Hard Ten's first start since fading to fifth in the Belmont Stakes on June 5. Orman expects a top effort.

"He seems to have a lot of energy, and I still think he has a lot of room to develop," Orman said, adding that the Swaps "is not do-or-die or anything. This looked like a good spot for him to get some confidence."

Corey Nakatani rides Rock Hard Ten, whose career-high 103 Beyer is nearly two lengths slower than the 106-107 Swaps par. And Rock Hard Ten still must catch Boomzeeboom.

The possibility of a lonely lead makes Boomzeeboom the main threat. Trained by Vladimir Cerin, Boomzeeboom rebounded June 19, following two subpar efforts, by scoring a hard-fought victory (102 Beyer) in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap. Boomzeeboom will need his pace advantage Saturday, because he picks up six pounds and runs an additional half-furlong. Victor Espinoza rides Boomzeeboom, who has won 3 of 9 starts.

Capitano was scheduled to run in the Affirmed, but stepped on his foot the day before and was scratched. Capitano is a scrapper whose only subpar finish was after chasing a hot pace in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The problem for Capitano, a runner-up in four stakes, is he pulls himself up after making the lead.

There will be two changes Saturday - new jockey Alex Solis and a new strategy. Trainer Ray Bell said: "I've always wanted to take this horse off the pace and make a run . . . and I think that's what we're going to do. We just have to make sure he doesn't hit the front too soon."

Suave, upset winner of the Grade 3 Northern Dancer on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs, arrived Tuesday. Brands Hatch won a maiden race last out in his fourth start; Bear in the Woods makes his third start after finishing fourth in an allowance race.

The field

Swaps Stakes
Purse: $400,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 2

1CapitanoA. Solis1126-1
2Bear in the WoodsT. Baze11215-1
3Rock Hard TenC. Nakatani1121-1
4Brands HatchM. Smith11210-1
5SuaveR. Bejarano1209-2
6BoomzeeboomV. Espinoza1185-2

* Television: Saturday, 8-9 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN2