03/03/2004 1:00AM

Kilroe offers great betting


ARCADIA, Calif. - The $1 million Santa Anita Handicap may have the richest purse and the $200,000 San Rafael Stakes may have Kentucky Derby implications, but the best betting race on Saturday's program at Santa Anita is possibly the $350,000 Frank Kilroe Mile.

Run on turf, the Kilroe drew 12 entrants and has several contenders, including the first six horses in the weights - Sarafan and Sweet Return at 119 pounds, Designed for Luck and Irish Warrior at 118, Singletary at 117, and Inesperado, 116.

They will face Buckland Manor and Geronimo, who will carry 115 pounds; Apache Wings, Statement, and Wixoe Express, 114; Golden Dragon and Needwood Blade at 113; and Rock n Rosh at 112 pounds.

Several are capable of winning.

Sweet Return, who won the Hollywood Derby and San Marcos Stakes in consecutive starts, was hurt by drawing post 14. Sarafan, unraced since finishing 17th in the Japan Cup last November, drew post 9.

Designed for Luck, who won the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile last October, drew post 11. He will be ridden for the first time by Tyler Baze and will wear blinkers.

Buckland Manor was entered in the Kilroe instead of the Big Cap despite a game third-place finish in the Strub Stakes on Feb. 7. Buckland Manor disputed the lead in that race, led by 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole, and finished a length behind the winner, Domestic Dispute.

Owners Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan steered away from the Big Cap because of the 1 1/4-mile distance.

"He might go a mile and a quarter if he rates, but I think he's better suited at this distance," trainer Paco Gonzalez said. "Plus, he's run good on turf."

Buckland Manor won two allowance races at a mile on turf here in October before winning the one-mile Sir Beaufort Stakes on dirt on Dec. 26. He has not been worse than third in four starts since returning from a six-month layoff caused by a breathing problem.

"I didn't think he'd be this good because of the problem with his breathing," Gonzalez said. "The surgery worked pretty good."

The Kilroe Mile, race 9, is part of a pick six that has a guaranteed $1 million pool.

Rock Hard Ten makes it 2 for 2

Rock Hard Ten became unbeaten in two starts after winning a $53,872 allowance race over a mile on Wednesday. Despite a wide trip, Rock Hard Ten rallied in the stretch to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Teton Forest.

Ridden by Gary Stevens, Rock Hard Ten was timed in 1:36.37. He is expected to make his next start in a Kentucky Derby prep in coming weeks.

After the race, trainer Jason Orman said he did not have any specific stakes in mind for Rock Hard Ten. He said he wanted to analyze the results of the San Rafael Stakes on March 6 and the San Felipe Stakes on March 14 before making a decision. The top local prep to the Kentucky Derby is the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 3.

Rock Hard Ten was a 3-5 favorite against four rivals on Wednesday. Starting on the outside, Rock Hard Ten was always off the rail. He was within two lengths of the lead throughout and took the lead from Jimmy's Instinct at the eighth pole.

In the final furlong, Stevens hand-rode Rock Hard Ten.

In a maiden race over seven furlongs on Feb. 7, Rock Hard Ten won in a similar style, by 1 1/4 lengths with little urging from Stevens.

"Going long the first time after a sprint, he was aggressive," Orman said. "He couldn't get him back. He relaxed on the backstretch."

Halfbridled works brilliantly

A month ago, trainer Richard Mandella was not satisfied with the way Halfbridled was training and postponed her scheduled 2004 debut in the Feb. 15 Las Virgenes Stakes. That time has passed. Halfbridled, last year's champion 2-year-old filly, looked like her old self Wednesday morning, when she worked a dazzling mile in 1:38 under jockey Alex Solis.

"Pretty cool, huh?" said a giddy Mandella just after Halfbridled completed her drill. "That was super."

Halfbridled is now scheduled to return to action in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks on March 13. It will be her first start since she completed a 4-for-4 season with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Mandella said he bypassed the Las Virgenes because Halfbridled "didn't winter as well as I wanted."

"I gave her a rest, and she didn't appreciate it," he said. "She was lean. But now that spring's coming, she seems to be blooming."

Halfbridled was ridden last year by Julie Krone, who is still suffering from the lingering effects of an accident at Hollywood Park in December.

Alex Solis, who has been working Halfbridled recently, already has committed to ride A P Adventure in the Oaks. Mandella said the most likely replacement for Halfbridled would be Gary Stevens. Mandella said he had yet to commit to Stevens in case something unforeseen were to befall A P Adventure, leaving Solis open. "Alex is a real team player," Mandella said.

Azeri gets another workout

Azeri continues to progress toward a comeback. On Wednesday, she worked five furlongs in 58.60 seconds, the second fastest of 47 recorded works at the distance.

The 2002 Horse of the Year and champion older female of 2002 and 2003, Azeri has not started since finishing second in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap in September.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said she is likely to make her next start in April in the Midwest.

Azeri was previously trained by Laura de Seroux. In mid-October, de Seroux announced that Azeri had been retired because of a tendon injury. Now 6, Azeri was sent to Kentucky, where she underwent further tests before owner Michael Paulson announced that she was resuming training in late December.

"She's doing super," Lukas said. "We have many options on what races we can go in."

Weekend racing on local TV

Santa Anita has reached an agreement with a local independent television station for an hour of live television each weekend afternoon through the end of the meeting on April 18.

Known as "HRTV Live", the program will be shown on KDOC (Channel 56) from 4-5 p.m., and will offer a feed from HRTV, the television network operated by Santa Anita's parent company, Magna Entertainment.

The first "HRTV Live" program will feature the Kilroe Mile and Big Cap, which will be run at 4:42 p.m.

Workouts for Dubai

Preparing for the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 27, Domestic Dispute worked six furlongs in 1:11.40 at Santa Anita and Medaglia d'Oro worked six furlongs at 1:14 at Hollywood Park. Medaglia d'Oro won the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park last month in his most recent start.

* Sightseek, preparing for a start in next week's Rampart Handicap at Gulfstream Park, worked five furlongs in 1:02.20 Wednesday at Hollywood Park. Her trainer, Bobby Frankel, also sent Vosburgh Stakes winner Ghostzapper through a half-mile in 49.60 seconds.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman