03/17/2005 12:00AM

The gang's all here in San Felipe

Don't Get Mad (above) inherits the role as top Kentucky Derby hopeful for trainer Ron Ellis in Saturday's San Felipe. Also in the race is Wilko, the reigning Breeders' Cup Juvenile champ.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Two weeks ago, life was good for trainer Ron Ellis. He had the favorite for the Kentucky Derby in Declan's Moon and a worthy second-stringer in Don't Get Mad.

But Declan's Moon has since gone to the sidelines with a knee chip. And as Ellis prepared Don't Get Mad for Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 at Santa Anita, he warily eyed a weather report that was growing increasingly bleak. After all, rain fell at Santa Anita the day before Declan's Moon ran in the Santa Catalina Stakes on March 5, and Ellis theorizes that the subsequently tightened track might have contributed to the colt's injury.

"After what happened, I'm a little gun-shy to run on a hard track," Ellis said.

An off track would throw a great deal of uncertainty into the San Felipe, which contains six of the 25 members of Daily Racing's Form's Derby Watch. Bob Baffert, the trainer of Roman Ruler, was anxious Thursday morning about the possibility of rain, since Roman Ruler has been plagued by quarter cracks that are exacerbated by firm surfaces.

"It's too late for me to go to the Gotham," Baffert said of Aqueduct's stakes for 3-year-olds on Saturday.

Nope, the gang's all here - Don't Get Mad and Roman Ruler, along with Consolidator, Giacomo, Golden Shine, and Wilko, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner. That's one cool six-pack. The race's outsiders are In Excelsis and Lucky J.H.

"To me, whoever wins this race should be the favorite for the Santa Anita Derby" on April 9, Ellis said.

Don't Get Mad won twice last year at Churchill Downs, then was a fast-finishing second in the San Vicente Stakes here on Feb. 13. The 1 1/16-mile San Felipe will be his first try around two turns. But in terms of his pedigree (by Stephen Got Even), running style, and physique, he should appreciate the extra distance.

"He's the type of horse that wants to go a mile and a quarter, not just two turns," Ellis said. "He's the type of horse - the way he trains - he acts like the longer, the better. He should love the distance."

Ellis said Don't Get Mad would race with Lasix for the first time on Saturday.

Roman Ruler ran well fresh last year before tailing off. He is making his first start since finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 30, and Baffert expects him to be close to the early pace.

"He's going to be pretty fresh," Baffert said.

Giacomo, who was third in the Sham Stakes on Feb. 5 despite losing his right front shoe with seven furlongs left to run, has trained so well since that race that his usually cautious trainer, John Shirreffs, said, "I don't think he could be coming into the race any better.

"Physically he's starting to fill out," Shirreffs said of the steel-gray son of Holy Bull. "When he first started running, he was climbing, because he didn't like the dirt in his face. Now, his stride is changing. He's leveling off and covering more ground."

Wilko is making his first start since finishing third behind Declan's Moon and Giacomo in the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 18. His trainer, Craig Dollase, said this week that Wilko was not fully cranked up for this race. Still, Wilko's consistency - in-the-money finishes in 10 of 12 starts - makes him difficult to dismiss.

Golden Shine returned from a 7 1/2-month layoff to crush a first-level allowance field going 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 16. His trainer, David Hofmans, always has held Golden Shine in high regard.

"That's why we gave him so much time after he hurt his shin in his second race last summer," Hofmans said. "We wanted to give him a ton of time and give him his best chance.

"He's got a stronger constitution than his father," said Hofmans, who trained Golden Shine's sire, Touch Gold, to victory the 1997 Belmont Stakes.

Consolidator was fourth and last in the San Vicente in his first start since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he "babied" Consolidator going into that race, and expects an improved effort on Saturday.

The field

San Felipe Stakes
Purse: $250,000; 1 1/16 miles; Grade 2

1Don't Get MadT. Baze7-2
2Lucky J. H.J. Court15-1
3In Excelsis A. Solis20-1
4Giacomo M. Smith6-1
5Roman RulerG. Stevens5-2
6WilkoC. Nakatani4-1
7Golden ShineR. Douglas9-2
8ConsolidatorR. Bejerano6-1

* All starters carry 116 pounds
* Odds by Michael Hammersly