02/04/2006 1:00AM

Slop not a problem for Barbaro

Barbaro (center), and jockey Edgar Prado, go around the turn ahead of Doctor Decherd (right) and Flashy Bull (left) to win the Holy Bull Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Turf racing has been good to Barbaro, but the grass may be greener on the other side of the rail. Barbaro made his first start on dirt in the $150,000 on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, and threw mud in the eyes of his 11 rivals, winning the Grade 3 race to remain unbeaten and stamp himself as one of the elite contenders for this year's Kentucky Derby.

Barbaro put away Doctor Decherd heading into the far turn, spurned a bid from Flashy Bull heading into the stretch, then held off the furious late charge of Great Point to win by three-quarters of a length. My Golden Song, who raced four paths wide the whole way, was another 2 1/2 lengths back in third.

Barbaro was always prominent under jockey Edgar Prado. He sat second early as Doctor Decherd, the winner of the Aventura Stakes, led through fractions of 23.18 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, and 46.28 for a half-mile. Barbaro led narrowly after six furlongs in 1:10.33, and completed 1 1/8 miles on a track rated sloppy in 1:49.31.

"He loped a little when he made the lead," Prado told trainer Michael Matz as they waited for the trophy presentation in the winner's circle. "I had to ride him at the end, but I wasn't all over him."

Barbaro ($5.20) had made his first three starts on turf, and the manner in which he won those races made him the favorite, even though he had never before raced on dirt, let alone on an off track.

"I was nervous about it," Matz said of running Barbaro on a sloppy track. But he said assistant Peter Brette, a former jockey who gallops Barbaro, reminded Matz, "They're all in the same boat."

"So far, he's answered everything that's been asked of him," said Matz, who trains Barbaro for Gretchen and Roy Jackson, who bred and own Barbaro. "I'm sure sooner or later he's going to get beat, but it hope it's later rather than sooner."

Barbaro, 3, is a son of Dynaformer. He has made all four of his starts at different racetracks. Before Saturday, he captured a maiden race at Delaware, the Laurel Futurity, and then the Tropical Park Derby at Calder.

Matz said Barbaro might make his next start in the Fountain of Youth Stakes here on March 4. It, like the Holy Bull, is at 1 1/8 miles, as is the Florida Derby on April 1.

"We've always known distance would never be a problem with him," Matz said.