04/17/2002 12:00AM

Reasons to be skeptical of favorites

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ARCADIA, Calif. - There are questions surrounding the form of the three leading contenders in Friday's $100,000 Valiant Pete Handicap at Santa Anita - Echo Eddie, Full Moon Madness, and Men's Exclusive.

Echo Eddie and Men's Exclusive were second and fourth, respectively, in the $2 million Golden Shaheen Stakes in Dubai on March 23 and return 27 days later. Typically, horses that race in Dubai are given longer rest periods before resuming racing.

Full Moon Madness, who won 7 of 14 starts in 2000, returns after a one-year layoff and emerging from a long campaign "raggedy," trainer Bob Marshall said. The 7-year-old Full Moon Madness won the 2000 Valiant Pete Handicap and was second to Echo Eddie last year.

The trio is expected to dominate the six-furlong Valiant Pete for California-breds. The Valiant Pete is the third race on a nine-race program that begins at 3 p.m.

Echo Eddie is the 120-pound highweight, with Full Moon Madness and Men's Exclusive at 119. The longshots Revelling (112 pounds) and Ride and Shine (110) complete the field. Revelling and Ride and Shine were first and third, respectively, in a six-furlong allowance race for California-breds on April 3.

Echo Eddie will go favored. Owned by David and Rita Milch, Echo Eddie was beaten a head by Caller One in the six-furlong Golden Shaheen, which was run on a straightaway. The Golden Shaheen was his first start outside of California-bred company since December 2000.

"It was a heartbreaker," trainer Darrell Vienna said.

Since the start of 2001, Echo Eddie has been first or second in six starts.

The 5-year-old Echo Eddie won the Ken Maddy Sprint Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 23, stalking the lead for the opening quarter-mile. He can also win from the front.

Men's Exclusive was beaten 5 1/4 lengths in the Golden Shaheen, his second loss of the year.

Men's Exclusive had a week off after returning home from Dubai because, trainer Wesley Ward said, the 9-year-old's feet were tender from standing during the long flight. Ward said Men's Exclusive rebounded when he returned to Hollywood Park.

Still, Ward fears Echo Eddie.

"I have to run against a horse that beat me in the $2 million race," Ward said. "Darrell's a great horseman. It must mean his horse is doing great. My horse is a warrior. He's been in a lot more battles for a lot more years. That could work for me or against me."

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