04/06/2007 12:00AM

Gulchrunssweet tries to repeat

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How competitive are the New Mexico-bred ranks? Well, over the past few months stakes for New Mexico-breds have been won by Gulchrunssweet, Romeos Wilson, and Rocky Gulch. Take those three stalwarts, toss in recent allowance winners Values of the Hunt, Hecamefromaclaim, and Timeless Mike, and you have the makings of a tough contest. Those six and four others knock heads going 4 1/2 furlongs in Sunday's $100,000 Mt. Cristo Rey Handicap at Sunland Park.

The short distance and rail draw may mean Gulchrunssweet can successfully defend his title. A 7-year-old gelding trained by Bart Hone, Gulchrunssweet won last year's Mt. Cristo Rey by 3 1/4 lengths over Rocky Gulch as the favorite. He went on to win stakes at Albuquerque and Zia Park. Gulchrunssweet returned here in December and was third behind Romeos Wilson in the John L. Jamison going 6 1/2 furlongs, then finished second, beaten a half-length by Values of the Hunt, in a six-furlong allowance race here Jan. 6.

Gulchrunssweet hasn't run since, but he follows the same pattern as last year, when he was freshened before this race. He breaks from the rail under regular rider Alfredo Juarez Jr. as the 122-pound highweight.

It wouldn't be a New Mexico-bred stakes without Rocky Gulch, a 6-year-old who has won 18 of 34 for more than $1 million, making him the richest New Mexico-bred of all time. After being named New Mexico-bred horse of the year in 2004 and 2005, he had a solid 2006 season. But his form deteriorated in the winter. He was sixth in the Jamison and then 11th in the Alberto Dominguez Memorial here Jan. 7, looking as if his glory days were over.

Not so fast. In the one-mile New Mexico State University Handicap here March 3, Rocky Gulch stalked the pace and prevailed by a neck. Although he cuts back in distance, he has been effective at very short sprints like this. Glen Murphy rides again.

Romeos Wilson rallied after a slow start to be sixth behind Rocky Gulch in the New Mexico State University. He may improve, as that was his first run in two months.