03/23/2002 1:00AM

Roman Dancer beats Werblin in San Pedro

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Stuck in a speed duel with three rivals on the backstretch, jockey Kent Desormeaux decided to press the pace with Roman Dancer in Saturday's $79,275 San Pedro Stakes at Santa Anita.

"We were racing in a straight line across the track," Desormeaux said. "I figured I better clear these and see what happened. When I called on him, he took off."

The early move made the difference. Roman Dancer led by 1 1/2 lengths on the turn and was never threatened, drawing off to score by 3 1/2 lengths. Roman Dancer ($7) finished 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.36, easily beating Werblin, the even-money favorite.

"He played the way he practiced," Desormeaux said, referring to Roman Dancer's recent workouts.

Trained by Christopher Paasch, Roman Dancer broke from post 4 and was quickly in a fight for the lead with Werblin, Saturday Hero, and Shuffling Kid through an opening quarter-mile in 22.08 seconds.

"I think having the speed to the inside really helped," Paasch said. "We got him to relax a little and when we asked him he was there."

Werblin, third in the San Vicente Stakes in February and San Rafael Stakes on March 2, never threatened the leader in the final three furlongs. He seemed to be well placed before Desormeaux asked Roman Dancer.

"Maybe the last race took a little too much out of him," Werblin's trainer, Eduardo Inda, said. "He came up empty."

Werblin finished a half-length in front of Saturday Hero, who was followed by Mighty David and Shuffling Kid.

The San Pedro was Roman Dancer's second stakes win, coming five months after a four-length score in the minor Sunny Slope Stakes over this track. Owned by Lorraine and Rod Rodriguez, Roman Dancer has won 3 of 8 starts and $177,949. Earlier this year, the colt, by Polish Numbers, was second by a nose in the Grade 3 San Miguel Stakes on dirt and fourth, beaten a half-length by Shuffling Kid, in the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes on turf.

While Paasch has not ruled out a return to turf, he said a series of New York-bred races are Roman Dancer's goals for 2002.