03/30/2004 1:00AM

Reluctant to take the lead


ARCADIA, Calif. - The defection of front-runner Lion Heart from the Santa Anita Derby has weakened the pace scenario, which may force a change in strategy for longshot Lucky Pulpit. "Who's going to be on the lead?" Lucky Pulpit's trainer, Cliff Sise, asked, before answering his own question. "I might be in front, but I don't want to be in front."

Lucky Pulpit worked a half-mile Tuesday at Santa Anita. The slow time of the work, 50.60, breezing, is hardly relevant. Lucky Pulpit was under a hold throughout, went his final quarter-mile in 24.20, and galloped out strongly. Sise was more concerned with how the derby would unfold.

"It would be nice if I had a target that's not going to fold at the quarter pole," Sise said, adding that Jose Valdivia would ride.

Wimbledon and Rock Hard Ten are the favorites for the derby, which will be run without Lion Heart or Action This Day. Both those colts will race the following Saturday at Keeneland in the Blue Grass.

Action This Day "needs one more week to cool down, and there's still a little weepage from that cut in his leg," trainer Richard Mandella said.

There are three candidates to set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile derby. They are Lucky Pulpit, who pressed his way to a runner-up finish in the fast-paced Santa Catalina Stakes before displacing his palate and finishing eighth in the San Rafael; Quintons Gold Rush, fourth in the San Rafael; and Rock Hard Ten, considered by many as the horse to beat despite his inexperience. Rock Hard Ten has raced twice, won both starts, and has a running style that should allow him to adapt to any scenario.

"If nobody goes, he could be on the lead," said Rock Hard Ten's trainer, Jason Orman. "I wouldn't want to choke him down; he's got a pretty good cruising speed."

David Flores picked up the mount on Rock Hard Ten, who was ridden in his first two starts by Gary Stevens.

The derby field, listed in order of probable odds: Wimbledown, Javier Santiago; Rock Hard Ten, Flores; St Averil, Tyler Baze; Imperialism, Victor Espinoza; Quintons Gold Rush, Corey Nakatani; and Lucky Pulpit, Valdivia. Castledale is listed as a possible starter. Totally Platinum is likely to skip the race and run April 17 in the $100,000 Bay Meadows Derby.

No Oaks for Yearly Report

Yearly Report is all but out of the Kentucky Oaks, trainer Bob Baffert said Tuesday. The California-bred filly burst to prominence Jan. 19 with a rollicking four-length win in the Grade 2, seven-furlong Santa Ynez, but has not raced since. Owned by Betty Mabee's Golden Eagle Farm, Yearly Report was scheduled to start last Saturday in the $250,000 Sunland Park Oaks, but tied up late in the week and scratched.

Baffert said Yearly Report returned to the track Tuesday, but said a next start had not been chosen.

"I don't think she'll be going to the Oaks," he said. "I wouldn't be able to put a two-turn race in her, and Mrs. Mabee said just take your time and wait until she's right."

Yearly Report has won 2 of 3, but has not raced beyond seven furlongs.

Minister Eric back on scene

Minister Eric leaped right back into the Kentucky Derby picture Saturday with a huge runner-up finish in a one-other-than allowance, and trainer Richard Mandella said Tuesday the colt will aim toward the first Saturday in May.

"We're still in the hunt," Mandella said, adding that Minister Eric "is sounder today than he's ever been."

Making his second start of the season last Saturday, Minister Eric raced wide throughout in the 1 1/16-mile race, finishing second by a half-length behind Boomzeeboom while earning a 101 Beyer.

Mandella mentioned the Lexington Stakes on April 17 as a possible start for Minister Eric, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up, but that is not the only option. Having earned $350,000 in graded stakes as a 2-year-old, Minister Eric is virtually guaranteed a berth in the Derby, even without running in a graded stakes this year. Minister Eric has won 1 of 6, and could have his final prep in another one-other-than allowance.

Plan B for Dynever

Dynever, third in the Breeders' Cup Classic in his last start, will return to California and make his 2004 debut Saturday in the Grade 3 San Bernardino Handicap. Trainer Christophe Clement originally planned to start the 4-year-old Dynever on Saturday in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap, but Clement was unhappy with the colt's 119-pound weight assignment and an uncertain weather forecast. Dynever was assigned 116 pounds for the $100,000 San Bernardino after being supplemented for $2,000.

Corey Nakatani will ride Dynever in the 1 1/8-mile San Bernardino. Other expected starters are Total Impact, 116; Publication, 115; Calkins Road, 114; Ender's Shadow, 114; and Star Cross, 114.

Pedroza breaks collarbone

Jockey Martin Pedroza sustained a broken left collarbone Sunday in a spill in the Grade 2 Potrero Grande, and will be out of action the remainder of the Santa Anita meet, which ends April 18. Pedroza went down when his mount, Casas Caballo, fractured his left front leg and fell midway on the turn of the 6 1/2-furlong race. Pedroza, 38, was seventh in the Santa Anita jockey standings with 29 wins from 205 mounts.

In addition to the broken collarbone, Pedroza said Tuesday that he had a swollen pancreas and some internal bleeding. He went to the hospital for X-rays late Sunday, but was released that night. Despite the incident, Pedroza considers himself fortunate.

"I've been lucky: It's the first time in 23 years of riding that I have broken something," he said.

Pedroza hopes to return in time for the Hollywood Park spring-summer meet, which begins April 21.

Break for Bluesthestandard

Bluesthestandard will be turned out following a dull third-place finish Sunday in the Grade 2 Portrero Grande Handicap. Favored at 4-5, Bluesthestandard lost interest at the quarter pole and was beaten 3 1/2 lengths.

"He's running way below par," said Ted West, who trains the horse with his son, Ted H. West.

Bluesthestandard will have blood tests done, and undergo a nuclear scan. "Something's going on that doesn't meet the eye," West said. "We'll let him have a little R and R."