07/06/2005 11:00PM

Don't Get Mad a Churchill specialist? We'll see


Don't Get Mad always has had something to prove. First, he raced in the shadow of his stablemate, champion Declan's Moon. He then had to prove he was more than a late-running sprinter, a notion he erased with a victory in the Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill Downs following his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

He has won four times in eight starts, but all four of those victories, including the Derby Trial, have come at Churchill Downs, where Don't Get Mad has raced five times. So on Saturday, when he competes in the Grade 2, $400,000 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds at Hollywood Park, will have another hurdle to clear: proving he is more than a Churchill Downs specialist.

"There's no argument he likes Churchill Downs," said trainer Ron Ellis. "A lot of people thought that he was strictly a one-turn horse, but he dispelled that. A win in the Swaps would dispel that he's only a Churchill Downs horse."

Seven others, including - the first three finishers in last month's Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park - face Don't Get Mad in the Swaps, a 1 1/8-mile race.

After racing twice at age 2 in Kentucky last fall, Don't Get Mad raced three times in California this spring. He finished sharply to take second in the San Vicente Stakes. Don't Get Mad disappointed in two subsequent starts, however, in the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby, when he was treated with Lasix.

Ellis took notice of Don't Get Mad's lethargy in the Santa Anita Derby and made the unusual decision to take Don't Get Mad off Lasix for his subsequent starts. He won the Derby Trial with a powerful late rush, was fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and then rallied strongly to take the Northern Dancer.

"He could be one of those rare horses who is affected by Lasix," Ellis said. "When he ran on Lasix, I thought he was flat."

The Northern Dancer was particularly impressive, in that Don't Get Mad's prerace schedule had been impacted by quarantine restrictions, which forced him to train at odd hours.

"He only had three works. I had planned one other work," Ellis said. "If anything, I'm worried he might bounce this time. He might have overrun himself because he was feeling good, and then he comes up a little flat. He's doing well. That's just in the back of my mind."

While in Kentucky, Don't Get Mad was stabled with Paul McGee, Ellis's brother-in-law. Now that Ellis has Don't Get Mad back in his Hollywood Park barn, he joked, "He's going to tail off. We know that. I just hope it's not that much."

Indian Ocean bravely held off Surf Cat in the Affirmed for his third win in four starts. He is trained by Jay Robbins, who in 2000 guided the similarly inexperienced Tiznow to a win in the Affirmed and a second-place finish in the Swaps.

"One's career is a template for the other so far," Robbins said. "If he wins the Swaps, he'll have accomplished more than Tiznow, to this point. He's got a good constitution. This is his fourth start of the meet."

Surf Cat, compared to Indian Ocean, benefits from a seven-pound weight shift from the Affirmed. His jockey, Alex Solis, earlier this week said he rode Surf Cat tentatively in the Affirmed. Look for him to be more aggressive in the Swaps.

The field

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

1Old Man RiverT. Baze11220-1
2Dover DereP. Valenzuela11210-1
3RobadorJ. Valdivia Jr.1208-1
4Yes He's a PistolD. Sorenson1130-1
5Surf CatA. Solis1125-2
6Don't Get MadG. Stevens1207-5
7Indian OceanJ. Court1183-1
8Khyber PassD. Flores11220-1

* Odds by Michael Hammersly
* Television: Saturday, 7-8:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN