02/28/2007 1:00AM

Mr. Sekiguchi out to shed underachiever label

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ARCADIA, Calif. - At this point in his career, Mr. Sekiguchi, an $8 million yearling purchase in 2004, was supposed to be running in races such as Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap and not a $50,000 allowance race at Santa Anita on Friday.

Expectations run high for horses purchased for astronomical sums, and Mr. Sekiguchi has yet to live up to the interest generated in the sale ring.

So far, Mr. Sekiguchi has made three starts, with one win, a maiden race here last April. Off a game second here in January, Mr. Sekiguchi will be heavily favored to score the second win of his career on Friday.

"He really ran well," trainer Bob Baffert said of the January race.

Owned by Fusao Sekiguchi, who campaigned 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, Mr. Sekiguchi, 4, finished second in an allowance race over six furlongs on Jan. 7. He was entered in a similar race on Feb. 19 but was withdrawn by Baffert after rain left the track wet-fast in the early portion of the day.

Friday's forecast is for fine weather, and a big performance could put Mr. Sekiguchi closer to his stakes debut. Friday, Mr. Sekiguchi will be ridden by Victor Espinoza, who was aboard for his career debut, a second here in February 2006.

Baffert has worked Mr. Sekiguchi on Hollywood Park's synthetic track four times in the last month, including a quick six furlongs in 1:12.80 on Feb. 24.

Mr. Sekiguchi faces a moderate group. In a field of nine, only Absolute Glory is coming off a win, and that was in a maiden race over six furlongs at odds of 14-1 at Hollywood on Dec. 8.

Blowout is an intriguing runner. Trained by Ron Ellis, the 4-year-old Blowout started twice at Hollywood last summer, winning a maiden race for $80,000 claimers in his career debut and finishing fourth in an allowance, behind the Baffert-trained Air Ace.

Ellis has an excellent record with horses coming off layoffs. Blowout has worked quickly recently at Hollywood, including seven furlongs in 1:27.20, the fastest work at that distance on Feb. 22.

There will be ample support for Cotton King, trained by Bobby Frankel. The mount of leading rider Garrett Gomez, Cotton King has made one start this year, finishing fourth as the 6-5 favorite in a seven-furlong allowance race on Jan. 20.

Cotton King won two sprints at Belmont Park last summer.