12/30/2005 12:00AM

No knocks on Atlando in San Gabriel

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
By process of elimination, Atlando is the one to beat in the San Gabriel.

ARCADIA, Calif. - A gloomy weather forecast complicates the resumption of turf stakes Sunday at Santa Anita. The uncertainty surrounding the Grade 2 reflects the ambiguity of the lineup.

Grade 2 winners Badge of Silver and Choctaw Nation have never raced on grass. South American Group 1 winner Don Incauto will run for the first time since an illness last spring nearly killed him. Grade 1-placed Whilly fits on class, but his chances decrease on soft going. Rain is predicted.

Rhythm Mad's last start was May 2004 and trainer Richard Mandella admits, "He's going to a need a race."

Toasted has raced once in 15 months. Burning Sun has been burning money as beaten favorite. Estevan and Hendrix are simply not good enough.

All of that leaves Atlando as the horse to beat in his first start since winning the Grade 3 Knickerbocker on a "good" turf course at Belmont Park Oct. 30. Atlando was sent to California for the the Grade 1 Citation on Nov. 26 at Hollywood Park, but turf racing was canceled and Atlando was freshened.

Trainer Darrell Vienna said Atlando "has settled in really well and is doing well," adding that "he can run on soft ground."

Atlando and Don Incauto are owned by Gary Tanaka, and are coupled in the betting. According to Vienna, the two have beaten each other in workouts.

Don Incauto won successive Group 1 races in Argentina last winter, but contracted pneumonia after arriving in the U.S. "It was touch and go for a while," Vienna said. "You have be concerned how it affects their performance when a horse has gone through what he's gone through."

A four-time winner from nine starts, Don Incauto has trained well for his U.S. debut and will be ridden by David Flores. Atlando, who uncorked an explosive late kick to win the Knickerbocker, has won 5 of 13 starts and will be ridden by Martin Pedroza.

The cancellation of turf racing at Hollywood also affected Rhythm Mad. "Six weeks ago, he was ready to run," Mandella said. "He's gotten tired of training; mentally, he's lost the edge."

Rhythm Mad won the $350,000 Jim Murray Handicap for trainer Bruce Headley but sustained a tendon injury. He has won 5 of 10 starts; Sunday marks his first for Mandella.

Badge of Silver has won 6 of 13 starts on dirt, and is scheduled for retirement after the San Gabriel. Choctaw Nation has a closing kick that suggests he will be effective on turf. He also has won 6 of 13.