04/06/2006 11:00PM

The Pharaoh dependably in thick of it

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Every spring there are 3-year-olds that run far, and others that run fast. Sunday at Santa Anita, the accent is on speed - six quick sprinters entered the $83,000 San Pedro Stakes. Their goals do not include the word "Derby."

The horse to beat is , who romped in two stakes for California-breds early in the meet before finishing third as the odds-on favorite March 4 in the Baldwin Stakes. Da Stoops was not intended for the Baldwin until it came off the turf, and what looked like an easy spot for him became a 5 3/4-length loss.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Da Stoops earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in two previous races, making him the deserving favorite in the San Pedro. Da Stoops has won 3 of 9 and earned $314,700.

, meanwhile, has emerged as one of California's most consistent 3-year-old sprinters, even if his eight starts have produced only one win. His once-a-month campaign includes a runner-up finish last month in the Baldwin, in which he earned a 96 Beyer. A repeat of that effort makes him a top contender Sunday.

"We've got a fresh horse that runs hard every time," said trainer Chris Paasch, adding that he believes The Pharaoh can "develop into one of the better sprinters in the country."

He can do it by ability, or by attrition. Last out, The Pharaoh finished behind Fast Parade, who runs April 22 in the Lexington Stakes. One start back, The Pharaoh finished behind Bengal Lore, who is injured and out until Del Mar. Last year, The Pharaoh finished behind Your Tent or Mine and Stevie Wonderboy. Both are sidelined.

In the 6 1/2-furlong San Pedro, The Pharaoh meets maiden winners Arson Squad and Popsa Yankee, stakes winner Within Reason, and Record, who has raced at a mile in his last two starts. San Pedro nominee Neko Bay, whose debut and pedigree suggests he could be any type, will wait for an allowance.

, who won an $80,000 maiden claimer by nearly seven lengths March 15, could have waited for an allowance. In a way, he did. "Take out Da Stoops, and it's a one-other-than with an $80,000 purse," trainer Mike Puhich said.

Popsa Yankee "lost his cool" going to the post in his debut and weakened after a half-mile. Second time out, it was a different story. Puhich added blinkers, switched riders to patient Jon Court, dropped the horse in class, and Popsa Yankee won with an 88 Beyer. The San Pedro is race 9 on a 10-race card.