05/08/2008 12:00AM

Samba Rooster to come out gunning

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Samba Rooster lays his cards on the table. A confirmed front-runner, he is the one to catch on Saturday in the Grade 3, $400,000 Lone Star Derby.

"He's going to take them as far as he can, and hopefully, it will be all the way to the wire," said Bob Baffert, who trains Samba Rooster.

The Lone Star Derby has drawn a deep field of 13, including El Gato Malo, who won the first three races of his career, including the Grade 3 San Rafael, by a combined 16 lengths.

Leonides, the lone horse in the field stretching out from a sprint, looks like the main front-end rival to Samba Rooster.

"Those two, I would assume, will be out setting the pace, and that's okay with us," said Craig Dollase, who trains El Gato Malo. "We'll hopefully sit in the cat-bird seat."

Others in the Lone Star Derby include My Pal Charlie, the runner-up in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby for trainer Al Stall Jr., and Texas Wildcatter, who was second by a nose in the Grade 3 Gotham for trainer Todd Pletcher. The 1 1/16-mile derby is the co-richest stakes of the Lone Star meet, and it shares a card with a pair of $125,000 divisions of the Texas Stallion Stakes.

Samba Rooster exits the Grade 2 Lexington at Keeneland, where he finished second by a length to Behindatthebar, who is headed to the Preakness. The Lexington was Samba Rooster's first start for Baffert after being purchased by Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and Bernard Schiappa.

"He's extremely fast, a big, beautiful horse," said Baffert. "We bought him to have action."

Samba Rooster, who will add blinkers, ran a good race behind another possible Preakness starter a race before the Lexington, when he was second by three-quarters of a length to Harlem Rocker in a first-level allowance at Gulfstream. One start later, Harlem Rocker won the Grade 3 Withers with a Beyer of 106.

Garrett Gomez will ride Samba Rooster, who is coupled with Limestone Edge, a horse owned by the Lanni Trust and trained by Bob Hess.

The Preakness was a consideration for El Gato Malo, who in his most recent out finished fifth as the favorite in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

"He got a little rattled in the paddock that day, big crowd and all," said Dollase. "He just wasn't himself. So, we're going to take this route with him and hopefully get him back on track."

Rafael Bejarano will ride El Gato Malo, who will add blinkers Saturday.