07/05/2004 11:00PM

Few to test Rock Hard Ten

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Rock Hard Ten has earned more hype than success in the major 3-year-old stakes this year.

He was disqualified from second to third in the Santa Anita Derby in April, missed the Kentucky Derby because of insufficient earnings in graded stakes, ran second to Smarty Jones in the Preakness Stakes, and was fifth in the Belmont Stakes.

Saturday, the competition will be much easier when Rock Hard Ten starts as a strong favorite in the $400,000 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park. He will be trying for his first stakes victory in his sixth start, a career that began with a flashy maiden win at Santa Anita in February.

"We have asked a lot of the horse," trainer Jason Orman said.

Run over 1 1/8 miles, the Swaps Stakes may have only four starters. The others are Boomzeeboom, the winner of the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap on June 19; Capitano, who has been second in four stakes; and Suave, a Kentucky shipper who won the Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 12.

Orman has yet to settle on a rider for Rock Hard Ten, who is owned by Ernie Moody and Madeleine Paulson. As of Monday, he was holding the mount open in the event that jockey Patrick Valenzuela could get a court stay allowing him to ride while he appeals a steward's ban issued Friday for violating the terms of his conditional license.

"I'm waiting to see if Patrick can get a stay," Orman said. "They seem to think they have a chance."

Orman said that David Flores, Corey Nakatani, or Mike Smith may get the mount if Valenzuela cannot ride. Alex Solis rode Rock Hard Ten in the Belmont Stakes, but he is booked on Capitano.

In the Belmont, Rock Hard Ten finished 12 lengths behind Birdstone. Solis had Rock Hard Ten challenging for the lead on the backstretch, much closer to the front than Rock Hard Ten had been at any point in his career. By the final turn, Rock Hard Ten was out of contention, left in the wake of Birdstone and Smarty Jones.

"Alex didn't know the horse," Orman said. "I think it took him out of his game, especially since he'd only run four times."

Rock Hard Ten's chances were not helped when he threw a fit before the start.

"He got a little excited, but the atmosphere was unbelievable," Orman said of Belmont Stakes Day. "You could feel the energy."

The same will not apply at Hollywood Park on Saturday. The crowd will be smaller, and Rock Hard Ten has had several schooling sessions.

"We've been working with him quite a bit over here," Orman said.

Valenzuela weighs court action

As of Monday, Valenzuela was considering court action in an attempt to resume riding by the weekend, according to his agent, Corey Black.

Reached on Tuesday, Valenzuela declined to comment, referring inquiries to his attorney, Neil Papiano, who was not available.

On Friday, Valenzuela was suspended by the Hollywood Park board of stewards for failing to comply with the terms of his conditional license, which requires that he submit to a hair-follicle test. The suspension came a day after Valenzuela returned from a 30-day suspension for failing to submit to a mandatory urine test in January.

Valenzuela, 41, said last weekend that he was unable to take the hair-follicle test because he had fully shaved his body and could not provide a sample. According to a statement from the California Horse Racing Board, Valenzuela did not have sufficient hair on any part of his body. Hair-follicle tests require approximately 100 strands of hair and are considered more thorough than urine tests. Last week, Valenzuela submitted to at least two urine tests, which were negative.

If he does not resume riding in coming days, Valenzuela is tentatively scheduled to appear at a hearing with Hollywood Park stewards Pete Pedersen, George Slender, and Tom Ward on Friday.

Quero Quero going for a Grade 1

There are two major stakes for fillies and mares this weekend - Saturday's $150,000 A Gleam Handicap over seven furlongs and Sunday's $250,000 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap over 1 1/16 miles.

The probable starters for the Grade 2 A Gleam are Christmas Time, Coconut Girl, Elloluv, Elusive Diva, Pocketfullofpesos, and Royally Chosen

Sunday's Grade 1 Milady will be the graded-stakes debut on dirt of Quero Quero, who was third in the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap on turf on May 31. She will face a field expected to include Pesci, Star Parade, Stormica, Summer Wind Dancer, and Victory Encounter.

Victory Encounter has not started since winning the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap on May 9.

Javier Santiago has been booked to ride Quero Quero, who is trained by Paulo Lobo. Quero Quero, 4, finished third in the California Oaks on dirt in March 2003, her only start on the surface. She is a stakes winner on turf, in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap here last year.

"Let's try it," Lobo said. "She trains well on it, and it's a small field."

Cassidy proves a smart shopper

Trainer Jim Cassidy remembers feeling the tension in the sales ring when he bought Ticker Tape at the Tattersalls autumn horses in-training sale in Newmarket, England, last fall.

As the price rose, Cassidy grew increasingly frustrated. He had scouted the sale and thought the filly would work for the partnership of Jim Ford, Deron Pearson, and Jack Sweesy.

Cassidy pressed on, drawing further attention from his clients.

"Pearson said, 'You sure you like her?' " Cassidy recalled earlier this week.

"Ford said, 'Oh, I like the way you're spending my money.'

"But I wanted the mare."

The partners bought the filly for 100,000 guineas, or approximately $190,000. It looked like a deal when Ticker Tape won the Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita in April. It was a bargain after she won the $750,000 American Oaks last Saturday.

Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Ticker Tape rallied past pacesetter Western Hemisphere on the final turn, pulled clear in midstretch and held off a late run from the 7-5 favorite, Dance in the Mood, to win by a length.

"When this mare kicked, she made a helluva move," Cassidy said of the stretch run.

Understandably, the win will change the career of Ticker Tape, who is by Royal Applause. The victory has caused her value to skyrocket.

Ticker Tape had an active campaign of six starts in the first half of the year, but Cassidy said he will be more selective in choosing her upcoming races.

He said Ticker Tape's next start will come in the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks over 1 1/8 miles on turf on Aug. 21 and not the $150,000 San Clemente Handicap over a mile on turf on July 31.

"I don't think I want to bring her back in the San Clemente," Cassidy said. "I think she'll be a little tired in a day or so, but she was pretty keyed-up after the race. I won't do anything with her for a week."

The win was a milestone purse for the partners and Cassidy and the highlight of Ford's involvement in the sport.

"After 25 years, I finally got a Grade 1," Ford said.

Record pick four pool

Monday's $1 pick four pool reached a record $977,346 on a day when the pool was guaranteed by track management to reach $400,000. The bet returned $2,437.80 to 318 ticket-holders.

The pick four covered the sixth through ninth races. The winners were Coded Message ($11.20), Hecandigit ($11.60), Souvenir Gift ($10.20), and Semi Lost ($13.40). None was favored.