03/31/2005 1:00AM

Sort It Out a threat to 'Africa'


Southern Africa started out in England and has done most of his racing in this country in California. But his road to Louisville goes through Sunland Park in New Mexico. Southern Africa, winner of the Borderland Derby at Sunland on Feb. 27, is the favorite in Saturday's $500,000 , a 1 1/8-mile race that drew nine other 3-year-olds.

The Bob Baffert-trained Sort It Out may represent the biggest threat to Southern Africa. The three horses who finished behind Southern Africa in the Borderland - Thors Echo, Dover Dere, and Quiet Money - are back. Then there is local hotshot Cajun Pepper, who sizzled and fizzled in the Borderland after having won his first five career starts by a combined 30 lengths.

Southern Africa won two of his three races in England, then shipped to the United States and had to chase Declan's Moon home in his first two U.S. outings. Trained by Michael Puhich, Southern Africa finished seventh in the Sham at Santa Anita on Feb. 5, and then shipped here, added blinkers, and won the Borderland. Southern Africa will be ridden by Jon Court.

Sort It Out has faced some top 3-year-olds. Based in New York, he won three straight on Aqueduct's inner track, including the Feb. 12 Whirlaway. He tried the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds March 12 but was never a factor.

Sort It Out has worked well since, and a return to his best New York form makes him a contender. Pat Valenzuela comes in to ride.

Thors Echo couldn't fend off Southern Africa in the Borderland but still put in a big run considering it was just his third career start, his first route, his first try against winners, and first time away from Southern California. He showed speed from post 12 and looked long gone in the lane. He got a bit weary, however, and Southern Africa ran him down, though he was more than five lengths clear of third.

Corey Nakatani rode Thors Echo last out and will ride him again Saturday. Thors Echo is trained by Doug O'Neill.

Cajun Pepper dazzled in his first five races, which came here and at Arapahoe. The Borderland was his first try beyond a sprint and first run in two months. He went fast early and faded to last. He can do much better with that race under his belt.