04/10/2003 12:00AM

Man Among Men has met heavies


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Man Among Men brings an intriguing record into the Grade 2, $500,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park Saturday - he has defeated both Empire Maker, the favorite in the Wood Memorial, and Peace Rules, the favorite in the Blue Grass.

The company lines are enough to make class handicappers salivate. Last year, Man Among Men beat Peace Rules by a head in the $52,000 Pinjara on turf at Santa Anita.

Following that race, Peace Rules won three straight stakes races, including the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.

This year, Man Among Men defeated Empire Maker by a length in the $81,000 Sham at Santa Anita on Feb. 7, one start before Empire Maker added blinkers and won the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

Empire Maker is the current favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

The Sham was an important step in the development of Man Among Men, not just because he defeated Empire Maker.

"My horse showed that day that he's not just a turf horse, that he can run as well on the dirt as the grass," said Gary Mandella, who trains Man Among Men for owner R.D. Hubbard.

Man Among Men won his maiden and the Pinjara on turf, but following his Sham win stayed on dirt and proceeded to the Grade 2 San Felipe, where he was sent off second choice in the wagering behind Domestic Dispute.

He finished seventh in that race behind Buddy Gil, who has since gone on to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

"I thought we had a real good shot in the San Felipe," Mandella said. "We scoped him after the race and found out he bled, an amount I would call significant but not drastic."

Mandella thinks Man Among Men bled as the result of unique circumstances. He believes the colt's immune system was weakened by a virus, which made him more prone to bleeding.

"He was duller than usual in the post parade, and dull for four or five days afterward," Mandella said.

Man Among Men has since made a full recovery. In his final major prep for the Arkansas Derby he worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds at Hollywood Park. Prior to that work, he drilled six furlongs in a bullet 1:11.40.

"I would say that was the best move on the dirt that he's ever had," Mandella said. "I'm confident he will run very well, and I think we have a good chance to win Saturday."

Mandella, the 31-year-old son of trainer Richard Mandella, began training on his own about a year and a half ago. Man Among Men is the most accomplished 3-year-old in his stable of 15, and is by Gentlemen, a sire that the young Mandella came to know well while working for his father, who trained the horse for Hubbard.

Bar shoe for Cat Genius again

Cat Genius, the super fast colt who grabbed a quarter in his one career loss, will wear a bar shoe on his left front foot in the Arkansas Derby, but the equipment is nothing new.

He has worn the protective shoe in all of his workouts for the race, and was also equipped with it in his comeback race last out when he won the $75,000 Sportsman's Paradise at Delta Downs in Vinton, La. In that race, he defeated Crowned King, who returned to win the $125,000 Rebel at Oaklawn, the final local prep for the Arkansas Derby.

Cat Genius won the first three races of his career leading wire to wire and was the favorite for the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs Nov. 30 when he stumbled badly leaving the starting gate and grabbed his quarter. After missing two months of training because of the injury, he made his comeback March 9 in the Sportsman's Paradise, a seven-furlong race around two turns which suited his fitness at the time, said trainer Tom Amoss.

He rated kind on the front end in the race, which he won by 4 1/2 lengths.

"It was a very big step for him," Amoss said. "It was encouraging that he rated well and won comfortably."

Cat Genius has since progressed for the 1 1/8-mile trip Saturday. In one of his final preps, he worked six furlongs in 1:11.40 at Churchill Downs.

Witt Ante tries open company

There are two one-mile stakes races for 3-year-olds on the Arkansas Derby undercard. In the $75,000 Northern Spur Breeders' Cup for colts and geldings, top Louisiana-bred runner Witt Ante moves into open company for the first time against a field of eight horses that includes the promising Rush Around and Boogie On.

Witt Ante gets back to the main track after finishing fourth in his turf debut last time out in the $100,000 Gentilly Handicap at Fair Grounds. He has won four main-track stakes between October of last year and February. His most recent score was a seven-length win over Louisiana-breds in the $100,000 Clyde Stevens at Delta Downs. For his effort, he earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 98.

Shane Sellers has the mount for owner David Beard and trainer Larry Robideaux.

In the $75,000 Instant Racing Breeders' Cup for fillies, Sue's Good News, a half-sister to stakes winner Easyfromthegitgo, will attempt to remain perfect while stretching out around two turns for the first time. She won her maiden by 9 3/4 lengths at Oaklawn March 2.

She returned three weeks later and was a patient, off-the-pace winner of an entry-level allowance race March 23 in an effort that impressed her trainer, Steve Hobby.

"I loved the way she did it the other day," Hobby said. "I wanted her to wait and wait, be in traffic and learn something, and she did it."

Others in the 11-horse field include Harbor Blues, who was cross-entered in the Grade 2 Fantasy here Friday; and Youcan'ttakeme, an impressive allowance winner in her last start March 13.

* The forecast for Saturday is sunny and a high of 75.