01/15/2005 1:00AM

Minister Eric wins San Fernando

Benoit & Associates
Minister Eric and jockey Rene Douglas beat Mass Media and Patrick Valenzuela in the San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Richard Mandella tightened his grip on the winter handicap division Saturday at Santa Anita, where he won his third stakes of the meet - the Grade 2 for 4-year-olds. Minister Eric ($16) won the mile and a sixteenth race by a half-length over 2-1 favorite Mass Media; longshot Skipaslew finished three lengths back in third; Imperialism was compromised by the speed bias and rallied to fourth.

Rene Douglas rode Minister Eric, adding to Mandella's handicap arsenal that includes Malibu Stakes winner Rock Hard Ten and San Pasqual Handicap winner Congrats. Minister Eric removed blinkers for the San Fernando, relaxed in fourth, was caught four-wide through the far turn, and outfinished Pat Valenzuela-ridden Mass Media on the outside. The final time was a respectable 1:42.14.

Owned and bred by Gerald Ford's Diamond A Racing, Minister Eric was winning for the third time in 12 starts. He previously finished second in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. BC Juvenile winner Action This Day finished next to last in the San Fernando; Santa Anita Derby winner Castledale ran fifth in his first start since the Kentucky Derby.

* Douglas outfinished Valenzuela one race later in the $83,550 Hill Rise Stakes, guiding Chattahoochee War ($5) to a half-length win over Eastern Sand in mile turf race for 3-year-olds. Littlebitofzip finished third in the race, which was run in 1:37.38 on a good course.