10/01/2004 12:00AM

Only four tackle Roman Ruler

Roman Ruler, led by Roberto Luna, lost the Del Mar Futurity by a neck but is still on course for the Juvenile.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The undefeated record is gone, but Roman Ruler has not lost his status as the top 2-year-old male in California.

The evidence of that is clear in Sunday's $200,000 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita. Roman Ruler has only four rivals in a key prep to the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30.

will be a heavy favorite in the Grade 2 Norfolk, his first start since he ran second to Declan's Moon in the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 8. Declan's Moon is passing the October races and will be pointed for the Hollywood Park fall meeting.

Trainer Bob Baffert is using Sunday's 1 1/16-mile race as a chance to stretch Roman Ruler around two turns and get him used to wearing blinkers in advance of the Breeders' Cup.

"He got his trial last time," Baffert said. "The race will tell us how he reacts to the blinkers."

Rival horsemen did not exactly storm the entries. None of Roman's Ruler's four opponents - Boston Glory, Compulsive, Forever Foxy, and Littlebitofzip - has started in a graded stakes.

Boston Glory, who beat maiden claimers at Del Mar, ran third in the San Mateo Stakes at Bay Meadows on Sept. 18. Compulsive, then trained by Baffert, won a maiden race over 5 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar. Baffert trained Compulsive until early September, when owner Jim McIngvale sent the colt and 14 others to trainer Nick Hines.

Forever Foxy is unbeaten in three starts, a span that includes a $40,000 maiden race for claimers at Del Mar and the Beau Brummel Stakes at Fairplex Park. Littlebitofzip beat maidens in his fourth start, over a mile on turf at Del Mar.

Roman Ruler will wear blinkers after showing erratic behavior in the morning. In August, he threw an exercise rider, who had to be sent to the hospital for X-rays.

In the Del Mar Futurity, Roman Ruler broke a stride slowly and was steadied on the backstretch in a four-horse race. Roman Ruler was still five lengths off the pace after a half-mile, led briefly in midstretch, and was passed by Declan's Moon in the final strides, losing by a neck.

Baffert said inexperience may have been part of the reason Roman Ruler lost.

"He'd never been whipped," Baffert said. "He'd never been asked."

The loss was preceded by a four-length maiden victory at Hollywood Park on June 19 and a seven-length win in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 15.

Littlebitofzip will be considered for the BC Juvenile if he runs well on Sunday. Trainer Dan Hendricks is concerned that Littlebitofzip might not like racing on dirt as much as turf.

"He didn't like the dirt at Hollywood," Hendricks said. "Without an abundance of turf races, I figured we might try the dirt race. If it doesn't work out, we'll go back to the turf."

The field

Purse: $200,000; 1 1/16 miles; Grade 2

1 Forever Foxy D. Sorenson 5-1
2Compulsive J. Santiago 6-1
3Boston Glory T. Baze 10-1
4Littlebitofzip D. Flores 12-1
5Roman Ruler C. Nakatani 1-5

* Blinkers On: Roman Ruler
* All starters carry 120 pounds
* Odds by Art Gropper
* Television: 6 p.m. Eastern, ESPN