03/17/2003 1:00AM

Catch 'Hombre' if you can

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Hombre Rapido has turned in two spectacular efforts this winter, and his trainer, John Sadler, believes the lightly raced 6-year-old gelding can continue to bang out big races as long as they are well spaced, and at six furlongs or less.

Sadler will put that theory to the test Wednesday, when Hombre Rapido goes for his third straight victory in Santa Anita's featured seventh race, a $65,000 classified allowance race at six furlongs. It will be his first start since he led from start to finish in a third-level allowance race on Jan. 12.

"Six furlongs is best for him, 5 1/2 even better," Sadler said, astride a pony, while watching his horses train Monday morning at Santa Anita. "The key with him is trying to find races that are not at 6 1/2 furlongs. We've been waiting for a six-furlong race to come up."

Wednesday's race drew a field of five, including an entry trained by Larry Barrera and owned by Aaron and Marie Jones. But the most recognizable challenger to Hombre Rapido might be Men's Exclusive, the venerable 10-year-old who was second in the Sunshine Millions Sprint to Captain Squire on Jan. 25.

Hombre Rapido, however, looks very difficult to catch in this spot. He has wicked early speed, and there is no one in this field who appears capable of keeping up with him in the early going.

Hombre Rapido made his stakes debut last summer at Hollywood Park, but faded to finish last of six in the Los Angeles Handicap. He got sick soon after that race, according to Sadler, and did not race for six months.

"I had three horses get sick on me last summer at Hollywood Park, and one of them died," Sadler said.

Hombre Rapido blew out for Wednesday's race with a rapid half-mile work in 46.80 seconds just before Sunday's first race.

Men's Exclusive is winless in his last eight starts; his last victory was in December 2001. He showed some spark last time, however, by rallying to finish second to Captain Squire, who is headed to the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai.

Barrera sends out the speedy Radiata, who has chased the likes of Kona Gold and Avanzado in his last two starts, and American System, who has turned in two disappointing races since finishing third in the opening-day Malibu Stakes. Both American System and Radiata are making their first starts for Barrera after being moved by the Joneses from trainer Eduardo Inda.

Golden Hare has been freshened by trainer Richard Mandella since finishing fourth in the Malibu.

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