09/30/2004 11:00PM

Harty's horse faces tall order

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The last time Roman Ruler was conceded victory before the flag was dropped came on the bright, shiny afternoon of Sept. 8, when he was beaten fair and square by Declan's Moon in a memorable running of the Del Mar Futurity.

On Sunday, in the $200,000 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita, Roman Ruler will be held in similar esteem, hammered down once again to the neighborhood of his 1-10 Del Mar odds and singled in every multi-race bet from here to Rockingham Park.

The Norfolk field is small - just five from a 2002 American foal crop of more than 32,000 are entered - but one look at the favorite and it is easy to understand why. Roman Ruler is a gorgeous hunk of young horse, a rich bay with dark trim who moves with the swagger of a naturally constructed athlete. He won his first two starts before the narrow loss in the Futurity, displaying enough raw talent for trainer Bob Baffert to tell people that Roman Ruler might be the best young colt he has ever trained.

"No question he's a very nice horse, and he's legitimately the favorite," said Eoin Harty, Baffert's right-hand man from 1992 to 1999 before taking a private job with Sheikh Mohammed. "But I tend to take exception when Bob says that kind of thing, because I was there when he had Silver Charm, amongst others."

Since the dawn of the new century, the Norfolk has belonged to Baffert and Harty. They put on a great show in 2000 with Flame Thrower (Baffert) and Street Cry (Harty), and in 2001 Harty ran one-two with Essence of Dubai and Ibn al Haitham, while Baffert's Ecstatic finished third.

Harty's cupboard of Godolphin 2-year-olds was bare in the fall of 2002, which allowed Baffert to sweep the Norfolk with Kafwain and Bull Market. Last year, though, it was Baffert in the background, as Harty sent out Ruler's Court for Sheikh Mohammed to win the race in a breathtaking romp.

Harty will be taking a crack at Roman Ruler on Sunday with Boston Glory, owned by the Eagle Oak Ranch of Diane Rochelle. A son of 1996 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Boston Harbor, Boston Glory has won once in three starts and will be going a distance of ground for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile Norfolk, a pattern similar to the one exhibited by Ruler's Court this time last year.

"Unfortunately, I don't think you're going to see the same performance out of this guy that you did from Ruler's Court," Harty said.

That would be asking too much of any horse. When Ruler's Court won the Norfolk by 14 lengths in a final time of 1:41.27 (breaking the stakes mark set by champion Roving Boy in 1982), the debate over the 2003 Breeders' Cup Juvenile was effectively silenced.

But then, in a disappointing whirl of events, Ruler's Court was whisked away from Harty's care and shipped to Sheikh Moha-mmed's training grounds in Dubai to await a 2004 campaign. The next thing anyone heard about Ruler's Court was news that he had undergone surgery for a fractured knee, but there were assurances he would come back as good as ever. Ruler's Court has not raced since his Norfolk.

"I got a report on him training in England this summer, and word was he was going sound and training well," Harty said. "It's my understanding, though, that he's not likely to be running until the stable gets back to Dubai. But I'm hopeful we haven't heard the last of him."

While he continues to be under contract to Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud racing organization, Harty has been acquiring other clients in hopes of building a successful public stable. Chief among his new patrons is Stan Fulton, an active buyer at the recent Keeneland yearling sales.

Diane Rochelle, the owner of Boston Glory, is the wife of the late Ben Rochelle, whose name is forever linked to champion Snow Chief and Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Very Subtle. Diane Rochelle has continued on with their racing stable, purchasing Boston Glory at the Del Mar 2003 yearling sale for $40,000.

"He broke his maiden for $62,500, so I guess you could say we don't really belong in a race like this," Harty said. "But I don't need much encouragement to take a shot even in the best of times, and in a five-horse field, for an owner who loves to see her horses run, why not?"

Boston Glory is out of the lightly raced Unbridled Glory, a granddaughter of the major California stakes winner Lucky Spell. As fillies go, Lucky Spell was an all-around talent. At 3 she won the Princess Stakes on the dirt and beat older mares on the grass in the Las Palmas Handicap. At 4 she took the six-furlong Las Flores Handicap on dirt and finished second in the 1 3/8-mile Yerba Buena Handicap on turf. Lucky Spell's half-brother Seattle Song won the 1984 Washington, D.C., International and was favored for the inaugural Breeders' Cup Turf before going wrong a few days before the race.

"He's a leggy individual and out of an Unbridled mare, which means distance shouldn't be a problem for him strictly off his pedigree," Harty said of Boston Glory. "So I'm counting on old grandad showing up at the quarter pole."