08/19/2002 11:00PM

'Fast hombre' works five in 57.60


DEL MAR, Calif. - There may be several horses in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic intent on challenging for the early lead, but War Emblem left no doubt that he is the fastest of them all with a blazing workout Tuesday morning at Del Mar.

With regular exercise rider Dana Barnes aboard, War Emblem sizzled five furlongs in 57.60 seconds, the fastest of 30 works at the distance. The work was quicker than trainer Bob Baffert desired, coming as it is just five days before a 1 1/4-mile race that would be War Emblem's first start against older horses.

Baffert left open the possibility that War Emblem could still skip the race. "Let's see how he is in a couple of days," Baffert said. "There's always an outside chance I might change my mind. The Super Derby is a back-up."

But in the minutes following the work, Baffert rationalized that War Emblem needed a sharp work anyway. "He needed something. He's just a fast hombre," Baffert said.

War Emblem came on the track at 9:10 a.m., after a renovation break. Appearing at the six-furlong chute, he jogged with a pony counter-clockwise for a little more than one lap of the one-mile track. Once Jim Barnes, aboard the pony, let War Emblem go, the colt was eager to get into his drill.

War Emblem ripped through his opening quarter-mile in a little more than 22 seconds. Baffert, watching from the grandstand, instinctively knew the colt was working fast before he even glanced at his watch. "He's cooking. He went off too fast," Baffert said to Dana Barnes via the radio hookup Baffert uses for workouts.

As War Emblem cruised under the finish line, Baffert said, "He was too sharp today."

After War Emblem galloped out strongly, then jogged back toward the barn, Baffert radioed Jim Barnes and asked, "How's the big horse? Is he blowing very hard?"

"Not really, Bob, no," Jim Barnes replied. That seemed to set Baffert's mind at ease.

"He took off. He does that here. He cooked around there, but he kept going," Baffert said. "The way he worked, he should have just come to a screeching halt."

"Let's see the speed horses go with him now," said Richard Mulhall, the president of The Thoroughbred Corporation, which owns War Emblem.

Mulhall made the final decision on where War Emblem was to race this weekend, choosing the Pacific Classic over the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. "We're already here, he seems to like this racetrack, we don't have to ship, and the weather at Saratoga is unpredictable," Mulhall said, outlining the reasons War Emblem did not go to New York.

War Emblem was one of four Pacific Classic runners who worked Tuesday morning at Del Mar. Bonus Pack, who won Woodbine's Dominion Day Handicap in his last start, worked five furlongs in 1:01.20. Pleasantly Perfect, who has won his last two starts, worked a sharp five furlongs in 58.80 seconds. Speedy Pick, who could go in an allowance race later this week instead, worked a half-mile in 50.40 seconds.

In addition to those four, the Pacific Classic field is expected to include Arbiter, Bosque Redondo, Came Home, Grey Memo, Jimmy Z, Milwaukee Brew, Momentum, Sky Jack, and Tapatio, and possibly Seinne. Entries will be taken, and post positions drawn, on Thursday.