10/10/2002 11:00PM

Rock Opera's magic numbers: 47 and 7/2

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PHOENIX - Reference to magic numbers lately has been almost exclusively the property of baseball.

That may change come Sunday's Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita, and the magic number may well be 47.

"If I see a 47 [-second half-mile fraction], I'll get excited," Laffit Pincay Jr., rider of Rock Opera, told Daily Racing Form reporter Steve Andersen.

A 47-second half-mile would mean Rock Opera, the talented Clifford Sise-trained 3-year-old, would be on a leisurely lead, which would make him extremely tough as he looks to upset the deserving heavy favorite Inesperado in the 1 1/8-mile turf race.

It's no stunner that Rock Opera is good on turf. He is sired by Royal Academy, who won the BC Mile and sired last year's BC Mile winner, Val Royal. Rock Opera is out of a Rahy mare - Rahy has sired such turf stars as BC Turf winner Fantastic Light, multiple Grade 1-winning turf mare Tranquility Lake, top Euro miler Noverre, and top American miler Hawksley Hill, to name a few. Needless to say, turf is in the blood.

Last spring, Rock Opera won a maiden race on Santa Anita's hillside turf course in his career debut. "I think he'll like this course more than Del Mar's," Sise said. "He trains better here. He's doing better than he's ever done right now."

He better be. He will be trying to defeat Inesperado, a three-time stakes winner in the U.S. for trainer Bobby Frankel since coming over from Europe. Included in the stakes wins is the Del Mar Derby. And Inesperado seems to be getting better as the distance he runs increases.

Meanwhile, Rock Opera won a June 15 optional-claiming race at 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park, and then took the first division of the one-mile Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar. But when stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in the Del Mar Derby on Sept. 7, he was caught late, finishing third by 1 1/2 lengths behind Inesperado and Johar.

Pincay thinks Rock Opera will benefit from his first crack at 1 1/8 miles.

"In the Del Mar Derby, he broke really good and I thought I was making an easy lead," said Pincay, who has ridden him in all his races. "He felt very comfortable where he was. Another jock took back so I decided to be on the lead that day.

"To tell you the truth, he can rate," Pincay added. "He has no bad habits. He's doing good right now. He runs straight, and he's a very easy horse to ride."

For all the talk about Rock Opera not needing the lead to win, his connections better put him on the lead here. His best shot at beating Inesperado is to put some distance between himself and that foe, do it comfortably, and create a buffer. Rock Opera isn't going to outkick Inesperado, or likely contender Johar, either. His best chance is to create separation and leave the others with too much to do. With Inesperado at even money or so, and Johar around 3-1, Rock Opera will be around 7-2. That sounds like a nice magic number.

Sorting several impressive BC preps

There were a number of impressive performances in Santa Anita's key BC preps last weekend. Azeri was devastating as usual, but if she can't relax early what's going to happen in the BC when Imperial Gesture and Take Charge Lady go right with her?

Pleasantly Perfect looked fantastic, and I take particular pride in that, having written about him as a comer for trainer Dick Mandella immediately after his big Aug. 4 optional claiming win at Del Mar. But as DRF colleague Brad Free so aptly pointed out in his Saturday column, considerable questions regarding Pleasantly Perfect and his class remain. Momentum didn't really fire, and while Reba's Gold, Kela, and Euchre are nice horses, they don't really remind anyone of the top 3-year-olds.

What's worse is that Pleasantly Perfect seems to be the wise-guy horse nowadays, so his once lofty price may be gone and he thus becomes an underlay.

Night Patrol looked good and game, but the Citation at the end of next month looks like the way to go - it's tough to envision him threatening Rock of Gibraltar, Landseer, and the rest of the world's best milers.

The Norfolk gave us a look at three nice 2-year-olds. The winner, Kafwain, made an impressive move on the turn. Listen Indy kept to his task resolutely, looking like a horse who will love more ground. But most impressive was the narrow loser Bull Market, who in just his third career start, and his first route, showed speed and missed by only a lip - despite Kafwain's powerful move on the far turn. Whether Bull Market can handle Sky Mesa, Vindication, and the other top juveniles still seems dicey, but there's promise here to be sure.

For my money the most impressive winner of the bunch was Bob Baffert's 2-year-old filly Composure. I love the way she powered home in the Oak Leaf. I know, she beat Buffythecenterfold, who may be only a sprinter, and now faces the ominous task of taking on Storm Flag Flying. But Baffert's Santa Catarina gave Storm Flag Flying a race in the Frizette. My feeling is Composure, being by Belmont winner Touch Gold and thus probably wanting more ground, is better than Santa Catarina, and could be the right wager in the BC Juvenile Fillies

Oct. 26.