02/11/2005 12:00AM

Consolidator inherits lead role

Consolidator will be heavily favored in Sunday's San Vicente because Roman Ruler has a quarter crack and will not run.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Consolidator will get a free pass in the Grade 2 at Santa Anita on Sunday, when he launches his 3-year-old campaign in a field that will not include the horse expected to give him his toughest battle.

Roman Ruler will scratch from the San Vicente, according to trainer Bob Baffert, which means Consolidator will be heavily favored against only three rivals in the race. They are comebackers Don't Get Mad and Fusaichi Rock Star, and allowance sprinter Kirkendahl. The seven-furlong San Vicente was the scheduled comeback spot for Roman Ruler, but Baffert called it off because of weather and a recent foot problem.

"When I saw the rain, I knew my weekend was screwed up," Baffert said. "If I run him on a hard, muddy track, it'll set him back two months."

Roman Ruler has battled a quarter crack this winter; running over a wet track would only make it worse.

Consolidator, meanwhile, has long since healed from a quarter crack that popped when he finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 30. Trainer Wayne Lukas has aimed Consolidator to the San Vicente for weeks. The colt returns with successive bullet works - five furlongs in 58.60 seconds last Saturday, and a six-furlong move in 1:11.60 on Jan. 27.

"We're ready to get started, and we feel really good about him," Lukas said. "He's doing really well. It's time to get going."

Consolidator established himself among the division leaders last year by winning 2 of 7, including the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. A son of Storm Cat owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, Consolidator is racing Sunday for the first time since the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup.

Consolidator's jockey is Victor Espinoza, who has ridden all four of Lukas's top 3-year-olds this winter at Santa Anita. The Lukas quartet also includes Going Wild, winner of two stakes; Silent Bid, scheduled to go Saturday in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds; and Big Top Cat, a sharp maiden winner Lukas has called, "the best-bred colt in America." Sired by Storm Cat, Big Top Cat was produced by Grade 1-winning mare Golden Attraction.

While those three have a head start in terms of 3-year-old experience, Consolidator enters the winter and spring with a solid resume and earnings of $480,260. Without Roman Ruler in the lineup, Consolidator is the class of the San Vicente field.

Kirkendahl will try to bounce back after finishing last as the 9-5 favorite in the one-mile San Rafael Jan. 15. He won two sprints beforehand, and trainer Ted H. West hopes the shorter distance Saturday leads to a return to form. Kirkendahl qualifies off a 99 Beyer he earned in a Dec. 5 allowance win, though there is doubt about the quality of that race. The runner-up, Mr. Charlie D, broke down in deep stretch and was being pulled up at the wire.

Don't Get Mad won both of his starts last fall at Churchill Downs, and is making his first start in California. Transferred from trainer Paul McGee to his brother-in-law Ron Ellis, Don't Get Mad returns with a solid work pattern. However, Ellis cautions that the colt will not be at his peak on Sunday.

"He's doing good, but I really don't have him cranked up for this race," Ellis said. "It's the start of a long road. I just haven't turned the screws yet."

Don't Get Mad's best Beyer Figure is 90; the San Vicente par is 103. Ellis said Don't Get Mad will prep in the San Vicente, then stretch out March 19 in the Grade 2 San Felipe.

Fusaichi Rock Star was not expected to run in the San Vicente, but Baffert entered him when it became clear that Roman Ruler probably would scratch. Fusaichi Rock Star won 1 of 4 starts last year.

The field

San Vicente Stakes
Purse: $150,000; Grade 2; 7 furlongs

1Fusaichi Rock StarD. Flores1156-1
2KirkendahlK. Desormeaux1159-2
3Don't Get MadT. Baze1157-2
4Roman RulerJ. Bailey1226-5
5ConsolidatorV. Espinoza1193-1

* Odds by Michael Hammersly