02/26/2008 1:00AM

Rich Young Ruler preps for Rebel

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The owner Greg Norman is a resident of California, but he has been spending the past few months at Oaklawn with his horse Rich Young Ruler, whose meet objective is the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby.

Rich Young Ruler will take a step toward that goal Thursday, when he starts as the probable favorite in the ninth race, a $62,500 optional claimer for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

The race is expected to produce starters for the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel here March 15.

"The 3-year-old series at Oaklawn is fabulous," Norman said. "I mean, for the past four years it's produced some of the best runners in the nation. So, we felt that by coming here and allowing this horse to drink the water, or whatever is going on here, that it would be good for him, to have him train over this track to have him work over this track. Hopefully, some of that magic will rub off on us."

Rich Young Ruler, who is trained by Thomas Daughn, launched his career with a two-turn maiden win at Sam Houston on Dec. 20. From there, he ran third in the $50,000 Smarty Jones at a mile here on Jan. 21. Rich Young Ruler then traveled to Fair Grounds, where he set the pace and finished sixth to leading Kentucky Derby candidate Pyro in the Grade 3 Risen Star on Feb. 9.

"To get beat less than five lengths by Pyro gave us confidence in this horse," said Norman. "And at a trip that wasn't conducive to this horse's running style - to be on the lead. He likes to track other horses."

The blinkers were removed for Rich Young Ruler's start in the Risen Star, but they will be back on for Thursday's race.

"We're going to put the blinkers back on because we did learn something about this horse, and that is if he's on a loose lead he needs to focus mentally," Norman said. "And hopefully he will mature mentally to the point where he can run strong even when he's cleared horses."

Fabio Arguello Jr. has the mount on Rich Young Ruler, a son of Victory Gallop.

Rich Young Ruler figures to get a decent pace setup behind Supreme Orient, a wire-to-wire maiden winner for trainer John Servis; Courting Wisdom, a fresh, rail-drawn colt trained by Tim Ritchey; and Comic Romeo, a sharp allowance sprint winner for trainer Jorge Lara.