02/02/2005 12:00AM

Minister Eric pulls out of Strub

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Castledale will be entered in both Saturday's Strub and Sunday's San Antonio 'Cap.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Minister Eric, the winner of the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes last month, will not start in Saturday's Strub Stakes at Santa Anita after emerging from a workout on Monday with sore ankles, trainer Richard Mandella said.

Minister Eric worked three furlongs Monday at Santa Anita. The workout was supposed to be a half-mile, but was interrupted to avoid a fallen horse.

"The next day both ankles were a little jarred up," Mandella said. "We'll back off. We'll go easy for a couple of weeks and then start up again."

Mandella said Minister Eric also will not start in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap over 1 1/4 miles March 5.

The defection of Minister Eric leaves Mandella with one starter for the $300,000 Strub Stakes, Rock Hard Ten, the winner of the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes over seven furlongs Dec. 26.

The race is expected to draw at least six other entrants: Castledale, Good Reward, Hendrix, Love of Money, Skipaslew, and With Distinction. The Strub is run over 1 1/8 miles and is restricted to 4-year-olds.

Trainer Jeff Mullins said Castledale will also be entered for Sunday's $250,000 San Antonio Handicap over 1 1/8 miles for 4-year-olds and older. A decision on which race Castledale will try may not be made until Saturday, he said.

Castledale has started once this year, finishing fifth in the San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes. Last year, he won the Santa Anita Derby in a 30-1 upset. Mullins said he does not fear trying older horses in the San Antonio.

"We'll have to take them on at one time or another," Mullins said of the older horses. "We'll enter in both and look at them."

Castledale was assigned 116 pounds for the San Antonio, three pounds fewer than topweights Lundy's Liability, Rock Hard Ten, and Total Impact. With Rock Hard Ten bound for the Strub, there are six other probables for the San Antonio: Congrats, Epicentre, Formal Attire, Outta Here, Star Cross, and Truly a Judge.

Nakatani eligible to return to races

Corey Nakatani, who won riding titles last year at Del Mar and Oak Tree, returns from a 30-day suspension on Friday. He has one mount, Courtly Jazz in the seventh race.

Nakatani has not ridden since Hollywood Park closed its fall meeting Dec. 20. Last March, he was suspended for causing interference that led to jockey Javier Santiago being unseated in a race. Santiago was not hurt.

Nakatani appealed the suspension when the dates were issued last spring and continued the appeals through the summer. He took the matter to Los Angeles Superior Court in October, but lost a court action. At that point, the stewards issued the dates for the first 30 racing days of this meeting.

"I could never understand the severity of the penalty," Nakatani said. "That's why we went through the appeal. It's behind me. I'm ready to get back to work."

The suspension did not prevent Nakatani from working horses in the mornings. This weekend, his top mount is Good Reward in the Strub Stakes. He is booked to ride Sharp Lisa in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 12.

"To say the least, I'm ready to roll," Nakatani said. "I'm looking forward to getting back."

Despite his absence, Nakatani has set a lofty goal of winning the riding title. At the start of racing Wednesday, Rene Douglas led the standings with 28 wins, two more than Tyler Baze.

"I'd like to be leading rider," Nakatani said. "They've got a good lead on me. If we make the right decision on the track, you never know."

Uncle Denny can hardly wait for Sham

Uncle Denny is so on the muscle for Saturday's $100,000 Sham Stakes that he has left trainer Rafael Becerra "scared."

According to Becerra, the Sham Stakes cannot arrive soon enough. "I want to run him today," he said Wednesday. "I'm serious."

Owned by Stan Fulton, Uncle Denny is unbeaten in three starts. In his last start, he won the seven-furlong California Breeders' Champion Stakes on Dec. 26.

After beating maidens Oct. 7, Uncle Denny finished second in an allowance race at Hollywood Park on Nov. 13, but was promoted to first when Lucky J H was disqualified.

Becerra is excited about Uncle Denny's condition, but also worried that it will be difficult to keep the colt from doing something foolish during exercise or at the barn before the race.

Already this week, Becerra has had to alter Uncle Denny's training. "I just jogged him" Wednesday, Becerra said. "Yesterday, he went a little too fast in a gallop."

The Sham Stakes is run over 1 1/8 miles and marks Uncle Denny's first start around two turns.

Uncle Denny will face a large field led by Giacomo, the runner-up in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity in December, and Going Wild, the winner of the San Miguel Stakes over six furlongs Jan. 17. Other probable starters include Cadillac Cruiser, Chekhov, Devil's Bay, Salty Humor, and Southern Africa.

Santa Ana 'Cap likely next for Hoh Buzzard

Hoh Buzzard, the winner of the Brown Bess Handicap at Golden Gate Fields last Sunday, is bound for an upcoming stakes at Santa Anita, trainer Ben Cecil said.

Options include the $150,000 Buena Vista Handicap over a mile on turf on Feb. 21 or, more likely, the $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf on March 20.

"I've looked around the country and there isn't a lot right now," Cecil said. "I think a mile is a little short. The Santa Ana is a definite, and I think the Buena Vista is a possibility."

Moscow Burning gets a break

Moscow Burning, fifth beaten less than a length in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream Park last Saturday, has been turned out, trainer Jim Cassidy said. A two-time stakes winner last year, Moscow Burning will spend two weeks on a local farm before resuming training.

Cassidy said Moscow Burning could make the Santa Barbara Handicap on April 17.

In the Filly and Mare Turf, Moscow Burning lost by three-quarters of a length to Valentine Dancer.

"It was a long flight back," Cassidy said. "I thought we'd win the race."