09/30/2005 11:00PM

Rock Hard Ten gets ideal BC prep

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Rock Hard Ten wins the Goodwood BC, his first start in seven months.

ARCADIA, Calif. - On a day when his son and a former assistant won Grade 1 races at Belmont Park, trainer Richard Mandella wasn't about to be left out of the party.

Mandella trains Rock Hard Ten, who successfully returned from a near seven-month layoff to capture the Grade 2, $500,000 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting on Saturday. It was a performance that should set him up ideally for the Breeders' Cup Classic four weeks hence at Belmont Park.

It will be a reunion for Mandella. On Saturday, his son, Gary, won the Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont with Taste of Paradise, and Beau Greely, a former assistant, won the Jockey Club Gold Cup with Borrego.

Rock Hard Ten ($3.40), under a clever ride by Gary Stevens, won the Goodwood by a measured length over Roman Ruler, with Choctaw Nation another length back in third. Total Impact trailed in the field of four. Gotaghostofachance and Preachinatthebar, two horses with early speed, were scratched earlier in the day.

Rock Hard Ten was timed 1:48.68 for 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track. Because of the scratches, the pace was moderate. In fact, the race was run at about the same, steady pace for the entire nine furlongs, with Roman Ruler and Rock Hard Ten clicking off fractions of approximately 12 seconds for every furlong.

Roman Ruler, starting from the rail, inherited the early lead and went through the opening quarter in 24.28 seconds, the half in 48.62, and six furlongs in 1:12.12. Rock Hard Ten was always on his flank, and just to his outside, with Stevens waiting as long as possible to make his move.

Once the two leaders came off the final turn and into the stretch, Stevens gave Rock Hard Ten his cue to go on, and the big, powerful son of Kris S. immediately engaged Roman Ruler and took the lead. Stevens wanted to save something for the Breeders' Cup, and made sure Rock Hard Ten won without asking him for his absolute best. Rock Hard Ten's ears were pricked forward as he came under the wire, as if he was toying with his competition.

"He's improved so much. He's so push-button," said Stevens, who has combined with Mandella to win four straight races with Rock Hard Ten.

Mandella, who trains Rock Hard Ten for Ernie Moody and Madeleine Pickens, said he was relieved to get Rock Hard Ten's comeback race out of the way.

"You can train all you want, and do all the talking, but you've got to go out there and do it," he said.