03/24/2006 12:00AM

Rocky Gulch's reign in jeopardy

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For the past two seasons Rocky Gulch has dominated the New Mexico-bred ranks, but he has now lost three straight races. The question as he goes into Sunland Park's $100,000 Mt. Cristo Rey Handicap on Sunday is whether the 5-year-old Rocky Gulch has lost a step or two.

The 122-pound highweight and likely favorite, Rocky Gulch attempts to dispel such doubts as he heads a full field of 10 New Mexico-breds going 4 1/2 furlongs.

is the richest New Mexico-bred of all time with a bankroll of $813,608, putting him just ahead of Ciento, who recently returned to win and has slightly less than $800,000. Trained by Terry Walker, Rocky Gulch is also the reigning New Mexico-bred horse of the year, and victory in this same race here last year was part of a strong 2005 r?sum? that saw him win 3 of 5 races, all New Mexico-bred stakes.

Things haven't gone so well of late, however. Troubled starts could be at least partially blamed for defeats in the Johnie L. Jamison at Sunland on Dec. 11 and again in the Albert Dominguez Memorial on Jan. 1. In the New Mexico State University Handicap at a mile on Feb. 18, he broke better, but never really mustered a run while quite wide all the way. Rocky Gulch ended up fourth, beaten more than five lengths by Ninety Nine Jack, one of the horses he faces Sunday. Jorge Martin Bourdieu, Rocky Gulch's regular rider, has the call.

, who carries 121 pounds, missed much of 2005 due to injury but has come back in good form, winning the Jamison and New Mexico State University for trainer Michael Welch. The 7-year-old Ninety Nine Jack is versatile and has shown he can be effective even at a trip this short - he won the only other time he raced at about this distance. Casey Lambert rides.

, Gulchrunssweet, Geiger Gold, and C. G's Dollar all merit respect.

Hecamefromaclaim was a close second in this race last year to Rocky Gulch, though he hasn't run since last July. Gulchrunssweet posted two impressive victories at Sunland this winter, including a victory over Ninety Nine Jack in an allowance race on Feb. 7.

Geiger Gold has blossomed of late, rattling off three straight strong allowance wins, and C. G's Dollar comes off a strong third on March 14 in his first start in four months.