03/03/2006 12:00AM

Rattlesnake Joe has easier task in sprint

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Rattlesnake Joe had things going along quite nicely, winning three of his first five outings - and then he tried to run with Da Stoops in the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash at Santa Anita on Jan. 28. Da Stoops won the race by 7 1/2 lengths, with Rattlesnake Joe far back in seventh.

Rattlesnake Joe doesn't appear to be facing any horse with the ability of Da Stoops on Sunday in the $40,000 Palo Verde Handicap at Turf Paradise. The 6 1/2-furlong event for 3-year-olds has lured a field of eight.

Rattlesnake Joe, owned by Class Racing and A & R Stables and trained by Nick Hines, looms the favorite in the Palo Verde. After debuting at Calder last July, he was purchased and sent to new connections in Southern California. He promptly graduated at Del Mar, then he ran fifth in a starter allowance at Golden Gate in late October and second in an optional claimer at Hollywood Park Nov. 17, beaten a neck by Funky Friends. A month later, Rattlesnake Joe gained his revenge, going wire to wire in a similar race and beating Funky Friends by 4 1/2 lengths.

That sent him into the Sunshine Millions Dash, where he was beaten by more than 18 lengths. Scott Stevens has the call on Rattlesnake Joe on Sunday.

Ibetiwin may be the top local hope. Trained by Tom Bartol, he romped in an allowance race here Oct. 1 and two weeks later won the ATBA Sales Stakes. He then tackled open company in the Nov. 1 Sail on By. The 1-5 favorite, he stalked the pace and wore down the speed to prevail. He was next seen in the Nov. 28 Fool the Experts, but after dueling for the lead he gave way badly to finish last of seven. He bled that day, and his connections opted to freshen him. Miguel Hernandez rides on Sunday.

An interesting entrant is Corazondelcampeon. He made a startling debut at Hollywood last May, romping by six. In his second race he finished fourth in Del Mar's Grade 2 Best Pal behind What a Song. He didn't race again for nearly five months, and has come back with three dull races at Santa Anita.

He is now stabled here, and will be ridden Sunday by Glenn Corbett.