03/20/2003 12:00AM

Sprinting is Rojo Toro's true forte


ARCADIA, Calif. - Most winners of the one-mile San Rafael Stakes each March are considered candidates for the Santa Anita Derby a month later.

Rojo Toro, winner of this year's San Rafael Stakes on March 1, is being campaigned with an opposite approach. Saturday, Rojo Toro will attempt to stretch his unbeaten streak to four in the $75,000 San Pedro Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs.

Trained by Bob Baffert for Hal Earnhardt, Rojo Toro is not considered a Kentucky Derby candidate, but a sprinter who ran a game race to win the San Rafael

"He won that race on courage, class, and talent," Baffert said.

Rojo Toro led throughout the San Rafael, scoring by a length over Spensive. The San Rafael was Rojo Toro's 3-year-old debut. Last fall, he won a maiden race at Turfway Park and a first-condition allowance race at Churchill Downs.

Rojo Toro has been favored in all three of his starts, a streak expected to continue in the San Pedro, which has drawn nine runners.

The field includes three other stakes winners - Only the Best, the winner of two sprint stakes last fall; Jimmy O, who won the Beau Brummel Stakes at Fairplex Park in September; and Indian Express, a stakes winner in Panama.

Baffert trains Indian Express, who is by the California-based sire Indian Charlie but was bred in Utah. He won both his starts in Panama last fall, and is making his U.S. debut after having been scratched from the San Rafael Stakes.

Another leading contender is Our Bobby V., who won two six-furlong races last fall - a maiden race and an allowance race - but failed to win in two races this year, finishing second in the Santa Catalina Stakes over 1 1/16 miles and fourth in the San Rafael.

Ballingarry targets Arcadia

Ballingarry, who won the Canadian International at Woodbine last fall prior to finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Arlington Park, will make his 2003 debut in the $150,000 Arcadia Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf on April 6, trainer Laura de Seroux said.

Earlier this year, de Seroux had hoped to have Ballingarry ready for the $400,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap over about 1 3/4 miles on turf on April 20, but abandoned those plans after the 4-year-old missed training time due to illness.

"This makes more sense for him," de Seroux said.

Later this spring, Ballingarry will be considered for the $400,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on May 10 and the $350,000 Charles Whittingham Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on June 14.

Men's Exclusive still winning at 10

The remarkable career of 10-year-old Men's Exclusive continued on Wednesday when he won a $79,040 allowance race over six furlongs for the 11th win of his 44-race career.

Trained by Wesley Ward for Gene Reed, Men's Exclusive outgamed the 4-year-old Golden Hare by a half-length, finishing six furlongs in 1:09.80. Men's Exclusive was favored in the 1997 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Hollywood Park, a race in which he was sixth.

"He's sound as new money, it's just his feet give him problems," said Dennis Ward, the trainer's father, who deputized for his son on Wednesday. "Wes doesn't want to run him very many times. He picks his spots."

Wesley Ward missed Wednesday's race to attend a sale in Florida. He missed a first-hand view of a game victory that ended an eight-race losing streak, dating back to the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park in December 2001.

Since then, Men's Exclusive has placed in four stakes, including a second in the Sunshine Millions Sprint for California-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita on Jan. 25.

Alex Solis rode Men's Exclusive on Wednesday.

"I don't think every rider fits this horse," Dennis Ward said. "He likes a nice, calm, easy ride."

Wesley Ward has stated in the past that he will campaign Men's Exclusive as long as he is sound. Dennis Ward has expectations of his own. Wednesday, he predicted that Men's Exclusive's career earnings of $1,433,528 will grow substantially this year.

"He'll win another stakes or two," Dennis Ward said.

Sunland Cap next for Truly a Judge

Truly a Judge, who was second in the Tokyo City Handicap on March 8, is being pointed for the $100,000 Sunland Park Handicap in New Mexico on April 5, trainer David Bernstein said.

The winner of the Claiming Crown Jewel at Philadelphia Park last August, Truly a Judge has one victory in three starts this year, with the win coming in an optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 13.

Bernstein considered the $150,000 San Bernardino Handicap at Santa Anita on April 5, but wants to avoid Pleasantly Perfect, the winner of the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap last October.

Female turf stars resting for now

Saturday's Santa Ana Handicap does not include several of the fillies and mares who dominated turf racing in recent months.

Golden Apples, the 2002 champion turf female, is expected to rejoin trainer Ben Cecil's stable on Saturday. She has been out this year recovering from surgery to have bone chips removed from both ankles. Golden Apples is expected to resume light training in coming weeks. Cecil is hoping she can be ready for the Del Mar meeting, which starts in late July.

Trainer Bobby Frankel has two starters in the Santa Ana - Megahertz, who will be favored, and Glia - but is passing the race with Tates Creek, the winner of the San Gorgonio Handicap in January, and Final Destination, the winner of the Buena Vista Handicap in February.

Both are being pointed for the upcoming Hollywood Park meeting.

"Tates Creek will run later in the year," Frankel said. "I don't want to pile weights on her."

Frankel mentioned the Gamely Handicap on May 26 as a possible launching point for Tates Creek.

Espinoza will ride Ministers Wild Cat

Victor Espinoza has gained the mount on Ministers Wild Cat for the Santa Anita Derby on April 5, the most recent change among jockeys and trainers seeking to solidify partnerships in the preps leading to the Kentucky Derby.

Trained by Neil Drysdale, Ministers Wild Cat was second in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on March 8, the colt's graded stakes debut.

Espinoza replaces Kent Desormeaux, who has accepted the mount in the Santa Anita Derby on Ocean Terrace, the winner of the El Camino Real Derby. Mike Smith rode Ocean Terrace in the El Camino Real Derby, but is booked on April 5 to travel to Oaklawn Park to ride Azeri in the Apple Blossom Handicap.

Other candidates for the Santa Anita Derby are Atswhatimtalknbout (David Flores), Buddy Gil (Gary Stevens), Domestic Dispute (Corey Nakatani), and Kafwain. During, who would be a longshot, is also being considered, Baffert said.

Baffert has not finalized who will ride Kafwain, the runner-up in the Louisiana Derby.

Espinoza rode Kafwain in the Louisiana Derby, but was removed by Baffert, who was displeased with Espinoza's tactics.

Wednesday, jockey Patrick Valenzuela worked Kafwain, but he has yet to commit to the mount.

* Fernando Valenzuela, who has not ridden in a year after suffering a severely broken arm, will return on Saturday. Valenzuela, 33, is booked to ride Da Nine in the third race.