09/05/2004 11:00PM

A cut above the rest

Roman Ruler, with trainer Bob Baffert, is the only horse in the Del Mar Futurity field Wednesday who has earned a Beyer Speed Figure in the 90's. He got a 103 Beyer in the Best Pal.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Over the years, trainer Bob Baffert has frequently run more than one horse in the Del Mar Futurity. He could do it this year, too, but on Wednesday he will only need one, the one all eyes have been on this summer, Roman Ruler.

"I hate to run a nice horse against a horse like that," Baffert said.

Roman Ruler has won both his starts in runaway fashion, by a total of 11 lengths. In his most recent start, the 6 1/2-furlong Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 15, Roman Ruler closed with a rush, athletically sidestepped a stricken rival on the turn, and drew away to a seven-length victory, all while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 103. No 2-year-old has recorded a higher number this year.

Baffert elected to keep the likes of sharp maiden winners Compulsive and Fusaichi Rock Star in the barn, though he did enter the overmatched maiden Allright, who by all rights should be scratched. Five other 2-year-olds were entered for the Grade 2, $250,000 , a seven-furlong race that traditionally headlines the closing day of the 43-day summer season here.

On paper, the race is a complete mismatch. Other than Roman Ruler, no other horse in the race has ever run a Beyer Speed Figure in the 90's, including the unbeaten Chandtrue, who won four races earlier this year at Hollywood Park, including the Hollywood Juvenile Championship.

Jeff Tufts, the morning-line maker at Del Mar, made Roman Ruler the 3-5 favorite, with Chandtrue next at 5-2. Declan's Moon, who captured his debut against maidens July 31, is 5-1. Everyone else is 15-1 or more.

"We've got to beat Roman Ruler," said Ron Ellis, the trainer of Declan's Moon. "I guess running second to him would be okay. He's got a little head start on us, with two races under his belt."

Roman Ruler was highly regarded before his debut June 19 at Hollywood Park. He was sent off at 4-5 and won by four lengths going five furlongs. Baffert decided to skip the Hollywood Juvenile because Roman Ruler developed a foot abscess following his win. Ever since then, Roman Ruler has trained with bar shoes on his front hooves - including for workouts - but he wears regular shoes for his races.

"He wears the bar shoes as a precaution so he doesn't bruise his feet," Baffert said Monday morning. "We'll take them off after he trains on Tuesday and put his Nikes back on."

Roman Ruler will be ridden by Corey Nakatani, who led the jockeys' standings entering Monday's card and is shooting for his third Del Mar title. Nakatani won in 1994 and 1998. Nakatani has won the Del Mar Futurity just once, with Winning Pact in 1993.

Chandtrue was ridden by Nakatani for his first three races, but then Victor Espinoza was aboard for the Hollywood Juvenile. Espinoza jumped to Declan's Moon for this race, so newly arrived Gary Stevens picked up the mount on Chandtrue. Bob Hess Jr., the trainer of Chandtrue, said after the Hollywood Juvenile that he would wait until the Del Mar Futurity for Chandtrue's next race, so this layoff is not unexpected. Chandtrue is adding blinkers for this race.

Declan's Moon was a 14-1 upset winner of his lone start, a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race. He showed sharp speed to overcome the rail, a post at which horses are 7 for 45 in 5 1/2-furlong races this meet.

"I really thought he could run, but I didn't think he had that kind of speed," Ellis said. "I had kicked him out of the gate and he did well, but I didn't expect that speed. He came out really running."

In the five weeks since then, "he's trained very, very well," Ellis said. "And my colt will get better as the distances increase."

David Flores rode Declan's Moon in his debut, but Espinoza has the mount Wednesday. According to Ellis, Flores gave up the call last week with the expectation of riding another horse who subsequently was not entered. "I couldn't wait around, so I got Victor," said Ellis.

Gentleman Count and Swiss Lad defeated maidens last time out after failing in earlier attempts in stakes. Allright and Notarized are both winless.