06/15/2007 12:00AM

Short field is long on talent

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Albertus Maximus has won his last two races, showing the sort of promise that affords attention. The wins have made him the talk of Sunday's $100,000 Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Now, Albertus Maximus has to prove whether all the chatter was worth it.

Making his stakes debut, Albertus Maximus is one of six 3-year-olds entered in the Grade 3 Affirmed over 1 1/16 miles, a race short on entrants but full of promising colts. The field features four stakes winners.

A winner of 2 of 4 starts, Albertus Maximus beat maidens in his third start, on March 3 at Santa Anita. Trained by Gary Mandella, Albertus Maximus was not rushed into the Triple Crown preps in the spring because of a quarter crack.

On May 3, he returned to win a first-condition allowance race here at 1 1/16 miles. Jockey Jorge Chavez did not aggressively ride Albertus Maximus in the stretch of that race. He did not need to.

"He didn't beat the sort of horses that he'll face in this race," Mandella said.

In the Affirmed, Albertus Maximus breaks from the outside post, and is expected to take a prominent position early.

"I can work him behind horses and he'll finish just as well," Mandella said. "It's a matter of him being a big, long-striding horse. He's not a horse you want to drop back."

Albertus Maximus may face early pressure from Time to Get Even and Desert Code, the first- and third-place finishers in the Grade 2 Laz Barrera Memorial Stakes at seven furlongs May 20. Time to Get Even won that race in his third start and is making his route debut in the Affirmed.

"I hope he will relax a little bit," trainer Walther Solis said. "I hope we can sit behind the speed. I feel he's better than he was before the Laz Barrera."

Awesome Gambler and Cobalt Blue, the first two finishers of the Alydar Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on May 26, are top contenders.

Cobalt Blue, the winner of the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes in March, was 3-5 in the Alydar Stakes. He led to the final furlong before losing by 1 1/2 lengths.

"He should be tough shortening up," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "He got a little tired."