01/13/2005 12:00AM

Soft San Fernando

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A speed-laden field that includes Perfect Moon (above) could set up the San Fernando for a closer like Castledale.

ARCADIA, Calif. - A jumbled cast of sprinters, comebackers, shippers, and former stars entered the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita. Most entered for the same reason as trainer Bob Baffert.

"We've got to take advantage while Rock Hard Ten is out," he said, explaining why his allowance-class sprinter Indian Country entered a Grade 2 route. Seems reasonable. But even with Rock Hard Ten awaiting the Feb. 5 Strub Stakes, the San Fernando is no easy spot for a front-running sprinter.

The field is loaded with speed and includes Mass Media, the beaten favorite in the Malibu Stakes, who will be ridden by Pat Valenzuela; , a presser who finished fourth in the Malibu; and Indian Country, whose 101 Beyer is the best last-start dirt figure in the field.

The race sets up for a closer, and three survivors from the 2004 Kentucky Derby - Action This Day, Castledale, and Imperialism - will try to exploit the scenario. At 1 1/16 miles, the San Fernando is the second leg of the Strub Series for 4-year-olds. Rock Hard Ten won the first leg, the Malibu.

, upsetter of the 2003 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, has trained enthusiastically since his dull comeback.

"Somewhere along the line something's got to happen," owner B. Wayne Hughes said, adding that the San Fernando "will tell the tale."

The recent workouts of Action This Day, trained by Richard Mandella, are similar to works that preceded his 26-1 Breeders' Cup upset.

won the Santa Anita Derby for trainer Jeff Mullins at 30-1 last April, then finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby in his last start. The San Fernando is an ambitious spot for a comeback.

The likelihood of a fast pace benefits Imperialism, third in the Kentucky Derby and third on Nov. 28 in the Hollywood Derby.

Trainer Kristin Mulhall was forced to scrap a Jan. 9 afternoon workout when racing was canceled. Imperialism trained the next morning on the training track, and Mulhall believes he is fit enough despite not having breezed since Jan. 2. Imperialism was scheduled for the Malibu, but spiked a temperature two days before and had to skip the race.

"I am a little concerned about [not working], but he's got a good foundation on him, and he's a lot more aggressive than he has been before," she said.

has raced three times at Santa Anita, winning the San Vicente and San Rafael stakes last winter before finishing third in the Santa Anita Derby.