02/14/2005 12:00AM

Second-stringers step forward

Fusaichi Rock Star (above) made up for the absence of stablemate Roman Ruler in the San Vicente. Sort It Out stole the spotlight from favored Galloping Grocer in the Whirlaway.

Bob Baffert, Patrick Biancone, and Ron Ellis might not have a better one in the barn, but this past weekend showed that they at least have another one in the barn. All three trainers strengthened their hand for the Kentucky Derby with top performances by colts considered their second-stringers.

Baffert had the most serendipitous result. All looked lost for Baffert on Friday, when his best 3-year-old, Roman Ruler, had a flare-up with a chronic quarter crack that prevented him from running in Sunday's San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita. But Baffert won the race anyway with Fusaichi Rock Star, who successfully returned from a near four-month layoff.

Biancone, who trains San Rafael Stakes winner Spanish Chestnut, went to Fair Grounds and watched Scipion rally from last to first in the Risen Star Stakes.

Ellis, who trains pro-tem Derby favorite Declan's Moon, had to settle for second in the San Vicente with Don't Get Mad, but that colt's late rally made him appear to have the most upside going forward among the four San Vicente runners.

The , in which he got a Beyer Figure of 95.

Unlike Roman Ruler, Fusaichi Rock Star is not by Fusaichi Pegasus. The son of Wild Wonder is owned by Fusao Sekiguchi, who prefers to name his horses Fusaichi something - Pegasus, Samurai, Rock Star. Fusaichi Rock Star was an appropriate winner on the day of the Grammy Awards.

Baffert on Monday was reached by phone while renting ski equipment in Utah, where he left for a brief vacation right after the San Vicente. He said Fusaichi Rock Star had trained sharply since undergoing a throat surgery.

"He had a myectomy," Baffert said. "He was displacing his palate really bad in New York last year. I was going to run him in an allowance race Thursday, but with the weather the way it's going to be, I was afraid it wouldn't go, and then with Roman Ruler coming out, I thought I would put him in."

Baffert said he was "afraid he and Kirkendahl would get into a speed duel." But when Kirkendahl did not engage him early, Fusaichi Rock Star was able to set leisurely fractions of 23.32 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46.56 for a half-mile in the seven-furlong race.

"When they let him go," Baffert said, "he was able to get into a nice, long stride."

Baffert said he was not sure where Fusaichi Rock Star would run next, but said both he and Roman Ruler would go around two turns in their next start. He said Roman Ruler would have a new patch put on his quarter crack this week, but he expected Roman Ruler to be ready to race in a few weeks.

"One thing about him, he's really fit," Baffert said.

The pace in the San Vicente hindered the chances of Don't Get Mad, but he closed furiously and just missed catching Fusaichi Rock Star, losing by a rapidly diminishing length. It was his first start since Nov. 26, and was designed by Ellis as a prep for the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 19.

"It was perfect," Ellis said Monday. "That was what we were looking for, the type of race you can build on. Now we've got five weeks to turn it up a notch.

"After the first half-mile," Ellis said, "I would have been happy if he would have only been beaten five or six lengths. But then he just exploded. I thought he was awesome."

Pace also impacted the Risen Star, in which Scipion closed stoutly to win after sharp early fractions.

"With his style, it helped that there was a long stretch for a stretch runner," Biancone said. "He needs to improve, but at this stage he's good enough for me. There was a speed bias. No horses were coming from behind to win all day."

Biancone said Scipion would likely return to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby on March 12.