03/01/2004 12:00AM

Rock Hard Ten stretches out to mile


ARCADIA, Calif. - Wednesday's second race will define the spring campaign of Rock Hard Ten, an impressive maiden winner in his debut last month.

Trained by Jason Orman for Madeleine Paulson and Ernie Moody's Mercedes Stable, will start as the favorite in a $52,000 optional claimer over a mile. The race is run as the second on an eight-race program, which features a pick six carryover of $1.4 million. The pick six covers the third through eighth races.

A victory by Rock Hard Ten on Wednesday would move him closer to a start in a Kentucky Derby prep, perhaps the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 3.

"If he runs really well and comes out of it well, we'll be looking toward the road to the Derby," Orman said. "We need to get some experience going two turns. We want to get an easy start because he ran hard last time. I don't want to hook the good horses yet. This will be part of a gradual progression upward."

Rock Hard Ten was a stylish winner in his debut over seven furlongs Feb. 7. Ridden by Gary Stevens, Rock Hard Ten stalked the pace to early stretch, took the lead in the final furlong, and scored by 1 1/4 lengths. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 100.

"He'd always trained really well," Orman said. "We've tried to develop him slowly. He won easier than I thought he would. I told Gary, 'School him and teach him as much as you can.' "

Rock Hard Ten drew the outside post in the field of five. The field includes Gethsemani and Teton Forest, who were beaten in stakes in their last starts; Jimmy's Instinct, who beat California-breds in an optional claimer Feb. 15; and Plenty of Heat, who beat maiden claimers over a mile Feb. 6.

Jimmy's Instinct will show speed. He disputed the pace throughout an optional claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs in his recent win.

Teton Forest is making his third start. Trained by Bob Baffert, Teton Forest won a seven-furlong maiden Jan. 3 but was fifth in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 7.

has one win in nine starts for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Gethsemani finished sixth in the Sham Stakes on Feb. 8.

Orman needs to see a win to consider Rock Hard Ten as a Kentucky Derby candidate.

"He has to run a couple of good races before we'd consider the Derby," he said.