02/16/2006 12:00AM

No shortage of challengers for Rocky Gulch in State U.


Consecutive losses have made Rocky Gulch look a little less imposing. Nevertheless, Rocky Gulch, the richest New Mexico-bred of all time, will be tough to beat as he seeks to defend his title in the $125,000 New Mexico State University Handicap on Saturday at Sunland Park.

Rocky Gulch's sudden vulnerability shows in the entries: 10 others were entered in the mile contest for 4-year-old and up New Mexico-breds.

Rocky Gulch, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Larry Teague and trained by Terry Walker, blew the start in the 6 1/2-furlong Johnie L. Jamison at Sunland on Dec. 11. He still had the speed to make the lead, but paid the price as he weakened just enough late to get nailed late by Ninety Nine Jack. He again had a terrible start in the 1 1/16-mile Albert Dominguez at Sunland on Jan. 1 and could never really get back into the race. He ran on decently to finish third, beaten 10 lengths and a neck by Some Ghost and Mojo Mundo. The three who finished in front of Rocky Gulch in those last two races are all back Saturday.

Regular rider Jorge Martin Bourdieu will be aboard Rocky Gulch at high weight of 124 pounds, giving from four to 11 pounds to the opposition.

Some Ghost was third behind Rocky Gulch in this race last year and then missed much of the second half of 2005. He came back to be no factor in the Dec. 11 Jamison, but that set him up for a breakout effort in the Dominguez, which he rallied to win by almost nine lengths. He has worked strongly since. Ricardo Jaime rides at 120 pounds.

Ninety Nine Jack rallied to beat Rocky Gulch in the Jamison but then disappointed twice, finishing fifth in the Dominguez and third in an allowance race here Feb. 7. Casey Lambert will ride at 119 pounds for owner Mary Bowden and trainer Michael Welch.

Romeos Wilson, owned by Rita Danley and trained by Fred Danley, beat Rocky Gulch in the E.T. Springer last summer at Albuquerque. He was a clear second in an allowance race here Feb. 7, his first start in nearly two months, and may be set to get back to his best. Alfredo Juarez Jr. rides at 120 pounds.