07/16/2003 11:00PM

Ruler's Court already scaring away rivals


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A buzz has surrounded Ruler's Court since he won his debut on June 11.

When he returns in Saturday's $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship, Ruler's Court will be heavily favored against only four rivals. A few potential candidates passed in favor of the $125,000 Graduation Stakes for California-breds on July 30 while others are waiting for the graded stakes at Del Mar in August.

"Hopefully by the Breeders' Cup, I will scare them all off," trainer Eoin Harty wisecracked earlier this week.

Harty, who trained Tempera, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2001, will be the first to admit that Ruler's Court has plenty to prove.

"At this stage of his career, I wouldn't say you would duck and dive a horse," he said.

Still, Harty was impressed with Ruler's Court's debut. Racing over five furlongs, Ruler's Court was second in the early going to Westcoast Thunder, and caught the pacesetter in the final furlong, finishing in a quick 57.40 seconds.

"I figured he was good enough to win first time out," Harty said of Ruler's Court. "I would have settled for second because it looked like that horse had a jump on me. He ran quite fast, and that was impressive."

The win leaves bettors expecting Ruler's Court to succeed in the Grade 3 Juvenile, run over six furlongs. The remaining four starters - Perfect Moon, Dave the Dude, Tricky Flash Flood, and Blairs Roarin Star - each raced in the Haggin Stakes over 5 1/2 furlongs June 21. Stalking Tiger won the Haggin but is skipping the Juvenile and being pointed for the Graduation. Perfect Moon was second in the Haggin, beaten three lengths, and Dave the Dude third, beaten 10. Tricky Flash Flood and Blairs Roarin Star finished fifth and sixth.

Trainer Mike Harrington considered Alpenfest and Dave the Dude for the Juvenile. He is leaving the well-regarded Alpenfest for the Graduation Stakes.

Harrington realizes that both spots would be difficult for Dave the Dude, facing either Ruler's Court on Saturday or his stablemate and Stalking Tiger in the Graduation.

"The reality is he's running for second money in either race," he said. "Who will outrun Eoin Harty's horse? Nobody."