11/21/2003 12:00AM

Super Derby winner lands at EA Ranches

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Twelve-year-old stallion Soul of the Matter will be relocated from Japan to EA Ranches in Santa Ysabel, Calif., in early December, well in time for the 2004 breeding season.

He arrives at a breeding farm happily getting back to the business of raising horses after a harrowing period in late October and early November when the property was threatened by California's rampant wildfires.

EA Ranches is in San Diego County, which was hard hit by the fires. Ranch owner Ernest Auerbach said the farm suffered only minor damage to fences.

Auerbach said 25 staff members worked for 48 consecutive hours, fighting the fire that threatened the farm.

"The sherriff said to get out and they said 'no,' " Auerbach said. "We lost a few perimeter fencing but no houses. Those people did unbelievable jobs.

"Twenty-five of the ranch hands beat the fire. We didn't have any help with the planes, the bombers. They worked 48 hours around the clock."

EA Ranches stands Mr. Integrity and was recently approached about adding Soul of the Matter, Auerbach said. Farm manager Marguerite Eliasson told Auerbach about the potential deal, which quickly moved forward.

"I said, 'By all means, we need a good stallion,' " Auerbach said. "We have Mr. Integrity. We haven't had a lot of stakes winners and he's not getting any customers."

Soul of the Matter, who was campaigned by Burt Bacharach and trained by Richard Mandella, has yet to stand a season in the United States; he was sent to Japan following his retirement in 1996. By Private Terms, Soul of the Matter won 7 of 16 starts and $2,302,818.

Soul of the Matter was among the top horses of his generation. He finished fifth in the 1994 Kentucky Derby, losing by 6 1/2 lengths to the winner, Go for Gin.

Mandella said that a quarter crack plagued Soul of the Matter during his career.

"When he ran a bad race, we always knew why he didn't run well," Mandella said. "He had a quarter crack that we had to fix a lot."

Despite winning races such as the Grade 1 Super Derby in 1994 and the Grade 2 Goodwood Handicap in 1995, Soul of the Matter is well-known for a race he lost, finishing a game second by a half-length to Cigar in the 1996 Dubai World Cup, one of the most exciting races of the decade.

Mandella vividly remembers that race, how Soul of the Matter emerged from the back of the field to challenge Cigar, who stubbornly held on.

"He got his head in front, Cigar dug back in," Mandella said. "He had Cigar cold, but Cigar wouldn't have any of it."

Soul of the Matter was in training for a rematch with Cigar in the 1996 Pacific Classic at Del Mar when he suffered a career-ending injury. The Mandella-trained Dare and Go upset Cigar in that race.

Soul of the Matter has sired more than 20 stakes winners in Japan.

"I think he will make a great stallion," Auerbach said. "He fits a lot of horses. He was a great racehorse. We have 25 mares of our own. We expect we'll get a lot of calls on him."

Concentrating on marketing a new stallion will be a welcome task for Auerbach and Eliasson after the scare from the wildfires.

Next week, Auerbach is throwing a party for his ranch staff.

"I gave them all big bonuses," he said. "They deserved it. I still have that gorgeous farm."