03/31/2009 11:00PM

The Pamplemousse burns up work tab

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The Pamplemousse threw down the gauntlet Tuesday morning at Santa Anita, where a blazing three-furlong work by the dark gray front-runner left no doubt regarding his weekend intentions.

The Pamplemousse and jockey Alex Solis will go straight to the front Saturday in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, a nine-furlong race they will try to steal from Pioneerof the Nile and Chocolate Candy. All three worked Tuesday, and The Pamplemousse was fastest.

Trainer Julio Canani instructed Solis to keep The Pamplemousse off the rail, use his speed, and shut him down soon after the wire.

"Julio wanted to go 35, and to pull him up at the seven-eighths," Solis said.

The Pamplemousse was four and five wide into the stretch, finished strongly in 34.80 seconds, then pulled to a stop midway on the clubhouse turn.

"He did it so easy," Solis said, noting the colt's positive attitude.

Solis wanted to jog him back, but he said The Pamplemousse "wanted to stay on the track and take it all in. He enjoys being out on the track."

The Pamplemousse set the pace winning two Grade 3 stakes this winter, the one-mile San Rafael and the 1 1/8-mile Sham in his last start Feb. 28. He is the early favorite Saturday in a likely field of six. His main rival is Pioneerof the Nile, winner of three straight graded stakes, including the San Felipe last time out March 14.

Joe Steiner worked Pioneerof the Nile a half-mile in 47.60 seconds for trainer Bob Baffert, after which both Steiner and Baffert said the colt enters the derby in peak form.

"This is the best he's ever been coming into a race," Baffert said.

Pioneerof the Nile has improved this winter, according to Steiner. "I worked him way back when, and there's a big change in him," Steiner said. "He's going through a maturing stage, he's relaxing, showing more, and he's more comfortable. He seems to be focusing."

Garrett Gomez will ride Pioneerof the Nile on Saturday.

Chocolate Candy worked a half-mile in 48.60 seconds under jockey Joel Rosario, and will be racing for the first time since winning the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby seven weeks ago, Feb. 14, at Golden Gate Fields. The layoff was by design, and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer hopes the break sets him up for a big spring.

"We mapped a strategy, stuck to it, and we're going to go in with a little fresher horse than some of them," Hollendorfer said. "He's holding his weight, he is doing well, and we think we're coming into the race in good condition.

The Derby is not a must-win race, however. Hollendorfer said, "None of these horses - The Pamplemousse, Pioneerof the Nile, or Chocolate Candy - absolutely have to win, but they have to run very well. They have to be closing ground, and either win or be right there."

Mr. Hot Stuff worked five furlongs Monday in 1:01.40, and trainer Eoin Harty hopes he improves over his 7 3/4-length loss to The Pamplemousse in the Grade 3 Sham.

"He did enough in his last race to warrant running in this race, and he's going to have to do enough in this race to warrant running in the next race," Harty said.

Gallant Son also worked Tuesday, a half-mile in 49.20. Feisty Suances also will run.