01/12/2006 12:00AM

'Latenite' will try to silence skeptics


When Latenite Band upset fellow New Mexico-breds in the Red Hedeman Mile at Sunland Park on Dec. 18, it was considered a bit of a fluke since he was almost 7-1. He will get a chance to dismiss any fluke notions Saturday, when he runs in Sunland's $125,000 Pepsi Cola Handicap at six furlongs. The Pepsi Cola has lured a field of 10, and Latenite Band will carry high weight of 121 pounds.

A 3-year-old owned by Leslie and Pierre Amestoy Jr. and trained by Lorence Lucero, had shown glimmers of ability in 2005. He won his debut in an allowance race at Albuquerque in April, then won allowance races in July and September before rallying smartly to win the George Maloof Futurity at Albuquerque in late September. That win appeared to stamp him a comer, but in his next start he finished seventh of 12 in Zia Park's New Mexico Cup Colt and Gelding Stakes on Nov. 6.

When he returned in the Hedeman Mile, Latenite Band's odds floated up, since he had not only disappointed at Zia but was now trying a mile for the first time. He made bettors pay, dogging pacesetter Manolito from the start and gamely prevailing over Matchstick Man.

Regular rider Joe Martinez again has the call Saturday.

, owned by Rigoberto Villalobos Sr. and trained by Jose Gonzalez, comes in as the second highweight at 120 pounds. In the Hedeman Mile, Manolito got a little weary in the final furlong after dueling with Latenite Band and finished third, beaten more than two lengths. The Hedeman Mile was also Manolito's first route attempt, so he is eligible to do better. Three of his four career wins have come at Sunland, and although he has twice won in wire-to-wire fashion, he has also shown he can win from well off the pace, as he did in the Copper Case at Zia on Nov. 24. Ken Tohill, who notched his 2,000th win on Tuesday, has the return call.

finished strongly and just failed to catch Latenite Band in the Hedeman Mile. Trained by Dwain Grissom, Matchstick Man has proved he can handle the distance, finishing second at a mile in his last two starts, and he again looms a late threat. Matchstick Man will break from the rail under Duane Sterling and will carry 116 pounds.