12/17/2004 1:00AM

Rocky Gulch heavy favorite


Rocky Gulch will top the $500,000 mark in earnings on Sunday if he prevails in the $104,300 Albert Dominguez Memorial Handicap for New Mexico-breds at Sunland Park. The 3-year-old Rocky Gulch spots older rivals 7 to 12 pounds as the 124-pound highweight

also is stretching out around two turns for the first time in a while in the 1 1/16-mile race, which drew a field of 10. But he is one of the best New Mexico-breds in training, and he will be an overwhelming favorite. Last year, Rocky Gulch was the top earner among 2-year-olds bred in New Mexico. This year, he has been even more impressive.

In 2004, Rocky Gulch has won 5 of 9 starts, and in a rare open-company appearance this spring ran third in the $500,000 WinStar Derby. It's those kinds of credentials, and a record of 4 wins in his last 5 starts, that make him Sunday's highweight, which is nothing new for Rocky Gulch.

"As long as he's not carrying too much weight, the spread doesn't bother me too much," said Terry Walker, who trains Rocky Gulch, a large, stout gelding, for Larry Teague. "You couldn't have given him any less and been fair."

Rocky Gulch picks up one pound off his last start, when, in his first race against older rivals, he won the $132,000 Johnie Jamison Handicap by 3 3/4 lengths on Nov. 27. That race is meaningful because he beat older rivals and because he bounced back from a rare fifth-place finish in the $70,000 Dine at Sun Ray Park in Farmington, N.M., on Nov 2.

Walker said Rocky Gulch bled internally in the Dine, the last straight 3-year-old stakes of the year for New Mexico-breds. Contributing factors were a higher altitude and a sharp contrast in temperature from the gelding's base of Sunland, near El Paso. "It just wasn't meant to be," said Walker.

Rocky Gulch was treated, scoped clean after a follow-up work, then ran a career race in the Jamison, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 100. He figures to be on or close to the pace Sunday, when he will break from post 9.

"I like where we drew, on the outside," said Walker. "They won't be pressuring us too much. We can lay there and see how [the race] plays."

Rocky Gulch's main foe might be any of three uncoupled horses trained by Henry Dominguez: Casperino, Local Case, and April Baby.