09/23/2004 11:00PM

Pressure's on Roman Ruler

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Roman Ruler needs a solid effort in his first try around two turns in the Oct. 3 Norfolk to earn a trip to Texas for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

ARCADIA, Calif. - As trainer Bob Baffert's top Breeders' Cup hopeful, Roman Ruler is likely to dictate the level of success Baffert will have in October.

One of the nation's top 2-year-old males, Roman Ruler is booked for two starts next month - the $200,000 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 3 and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Lone Star Park Oct. 30.

But Roman Ruler is coming off the only loss of his career, a neck defeat to Declan's Moon in the Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity over seven furlongs on Sept. 8.

Roman Ruler needs a strong performance in the Norfolk Stakes, his first outing at 1 1/16 miles and around two turns, to be sent to Texas for the Breeders' Cup. Roman Ruler not only represents possibly the first Breeders' Cup winner for owners Bill Bianco and David Shimmon, who race as Fog City Stable, but is Baffert's best hope on American racing's richest day.

Baffert, who won Eclipse Awards as the nation's leading trainer from 1997-99, has a disappointing record in the Breeders' Cup. From 40 starters, Baffert has had three winners, the most recent of whom was Vindication in the 2002 Juvenile at Arlington Park.

Baffert has had seven seconds in Breeders' Cup races, which has helped his runners earn $5,304,800, a ranking that places him eighth on the all-time trainers' list.

Roman Ruler may be favored in the Juvenile if he wins the Norfolk.

After winning a maiden race at Hollywood Park in June and the Grade 3 Best Pal Stakes by seven lengths on Aug. 15, Roman Ruler was 1-10 to win the Del Mar Futurity.

Things did not go well from the break.

After a slow start, Roman Ruler was third on the backstretch, trailing by as many as 5 1/2 lengths. Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Roman Ruler rallied past Declan's Moon to the lead at the eighth pole, but Declan's Moon came back to beat him.

"He's a pretty tough horse," Baffert said of Roman Ruler. "I thought that race would knock him out, but it didn't. He chased that horse and that gave him a lot to do.

"The only mistake that Corey made was that he took him back and spotted him four lengths. The winner is a nice horse. I didn't like to lose but it was a great race."

Declan's Moon is nominated to the Norfolk, but trainer Ron Ellis said the gelding will not start. He is a possible for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, with a decision expected in coming days.

Baffert has two other hopefuls for the Breeders' Cup - Fusaichi Rock Star and Senor Swinger - but both are based in New York. Fusaichi Rock Star, fifth as the favorite in the Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park on Sept. 19, is a candidate for the Juvenile. Senor Swinger, the winner of the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 18, could appear in the BC Mile or Turf.

Stakes fields small and fuzzy

Most of the six Breeders' Cup preps at Santa Anita next weekend, first weekend of the Oak Tree meeting, will have short fields. There are three stakes on Saturday and three on Sunday.

Saturday's program includes two $500,000 races - the Yellow Ribbon Stakes for fillies and mares over 1 1/4 miles on turf and the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on dirt. Neither race has a standout.

As of Friday, the candidates for the Yellow Ribbon include Amorama, Katdogawn, Light Jig, Noches de Rosa, Notting Hill, and Stage Shy.

Top older horse Pleasantly Perfect has won the last two runnings of the Goodwood, but is being trained up to the Breeders' Cup Classic, trainer Richard Mandella said. Even with Pleasantly Perfect back in the barn, the field may not be large. The probable starters include Gondolieri, Lundy's Liability, Supah Blitz, Total Impact, and Truly a Judge.

Lundy's Liability, trained by Bobby Frankel, won the $2 million United Arab Emirates Derby in Dubai in March, but has yet to start in the United States.

Saturday's program also includes the $200,000 Oak Leaf Stakes for 2-year-old fillies over 1 1/16 miles. Sweet Catomine, the winner of the Del Mar Debutante in late August, is the top contender.

Next Sunday's card is led by a pair of $250,000 races - the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap for fillies and mares over 1 1/16 miles and the Clement Hirsch Turf Championship over 1 1/4 miles on turf.

The Lady's Secret lacks the star power it enjoyed in 2003 when Azeri finished second, ending an 11-race winning streak.

This year's field is expected to include Barbara Orr, Dream of Summer, Island Fashion, Royally Chosen, Star Parade, and Summer Wind Dancer. Island Fashion finished second in the Santa Anita Handicap against males in March, but was unplaced in a stakes in Japan in June. Her participation depends on a Sunday workout, trainer Marcelo Polanco said.

The Hirsch field is led by Bayamo, the winner of the American Handicap at Hollywood Park in July. He is expected to face Continuously, The Tin Man, and Vangelis in a small and uninspiring field that reflects the lack of depth in the California distance turf division this year.

Joey Franco will stand at Harris

Joey Franco, the California-bred horse of the year in 2003, will launch a stud career at Harris Farms in Coalinga, Calif., next year. Earlier this year, Joey Franco was retired after failing to return to racing following an injury.

Owned by Jerry Frankel and trained by David Hofmans and Darrell Vienna, Joey Franco won 8 of 17 starts and $635,091. He was at his best in the spring and summer of 2003 while based with Vienna. During that span, Joey Franco won four stakes, including the Grade 1 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap over seven furlongs at Hollywood Park and the Grade 2 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap over a mile.

Statement goes out with a win

Statement, the winner of two minor handicaps over a mile on turf at Del Mar, has been retired because of an ankle injury, trainer Kristin Mulhall said on Friday.

Statement won 8 of 32 starts and $374,068. The two one-mile turf stakes at Del Mar - the Wickerr Handicap on July 31 and the Live the Dream Handicap on Sept. 8 - were the only stakes wins for the 6-year-old horse, who is by Seattle Slew.

Earlier in his career, Statement finished second in the 2001 Mohawk Handicap at Belmont Park.

Mulhall said that Statement could return to racing after a rest, but questioned whether he would be as effective.

"It's important that he goes out a winner," Mulhall said. "I think we've seen the best of him."

Stud plans have not been determined.