09/23/2004 12:00AM

Super setup for Imperialism

Trainer Kristin Mulhall has not run Imperialism since he finished fifth behind Smarty Jones in the Preakness on May 15.

BOSSIER CITY, La. - Imperialism and Borrego invade from Southern California for Saturday's Grade 2, $500,000 at Louisiana Downs, and both would benefit from an honest pace in the 1 1/8-mile race, something that could come courtesy of two fast locals. Britt's Jules and South Africa have excellent speed, and given that they will start alongside each other from inside posts, a duel seems probable.

Add into the mix Xirius, who can push the leaders, and Caballero Negro, a fresh horse who has the speed to do the same, and the Super Derby looks to set up perfectly for Imperialism, who will be making his first start back from a more than four-month layoff.

"As long as he's back eight or nine lengths, he comes flying," said Kristin Mulhall, who trains Imperialism.

Imperialism should go favored on the strength of a pair of Grade 2 wins this spring at Santa Anita and a third-place finish to Smarty Jones in the Kentucky Derby. He will take on eight others Saturday, including Cryptograph and Fantasticat, another pair of shippers who would benefit from a hot pace, and Mr. Jester, the richest member of the field with earnings of $766,000.

The Super Derby will go as the 10th of 13 races, and it is one of four stakes on the card. The program is the richest of the meet, and officials expect a crowd of 10,000 to 15,000. Last year, betting on the Super Derby card was a record $6,773,009.

Imperialism has his work cut out for him, even if the pace scenario is favorable. All of his rivals bring something solid to the table, and he gives up recency to each of them, as he has not raced since finishing fifth in the Preakness on May 15. Despite those obstacles, there are many reasons to believe Imperialism is sitting on a big race Saturday.

For one, the layoff - the first of his career - did him good. The colt has started 17 times, more than any of his rivals, and rose from the $32,000 claiming ranks to the Kentucky Derby.

"We freshened him up," said Mulhall, who took over Imperialism's training in January, when Steve Taub purchased the colt. "He'd run hard as a 2-year-old, and he campaigned hard this year, and he shipped back and forth for the Preakness.

"He was out in a big three-acre pasture. He gained a little weight, enjoyed himself, and came back good.

"He's as fit as I can possibly get him," she said.

Imperialism's works, in which he has worn a full set of blinkers, have been strong. The blinkers are semis, or half-cup in size, and on Saturday they will replace the full-cup blinker Imperialism had worn over his right eye, which he has trouble seeing out of. He has not worn a blinker cup over his left eye in his five starts for Mulhall.

She is hoping to see Imperialism farther off the pace under Kent Desormeaux than he was in the Preakness, when he pushed matters early after being rattled before the race. He was among the horses waiting in the gate while Rock Hard Ten was hesitant to load.

"I was hoping to be 10 lengths out of it, but he was anxious in the gate and broke like a cannon," said Mulhall. "I think he'll run fine, as long as Kent can get him to drop back and relax."

Borrego will be a stretch threat. He, too, had time off after the Preakness and has since had a race back, finishing second in the $79,000 El Cajon at Del Mar with blinkers off.

"He worked up to the El Cajon without them and was working well," said Beau Greely, who bred, co-owns, and trains Borrego. "When he sees a horse, he gets a little more game."

Greely said another plus for the colt is the additional furlong he picks up in the Super Derby. Borrego is looking for his first stakes score after running second in the $1 million Arkansas Derby and the $750,000 Louisiana Derby.

Tyler Baze will ride Borrego, who could get the jump on Imperialism.

"He's pretty versatile," said Greely. "He can stalk the pace or come from out of it. We'll see how it's playing Saturday."

The Super Derby has a scheduled post of 5:05 p.m. Central. The race will be televised on HRTV and TVG. Forecasts are calling for isolated thunderstorms and a high of 88 on Saturday.

The field

Super Derby
Purse: $500,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 2

1CryptographD. Pettinger6-1
2Britt's JulesG. Smith6-1
3South AfricaJ. Jacinto12-1
4XiriusF. Jara20-1
5FantasticatG. Melancon12-1
6BorregoT. Baze5-2
7ImperialismK. Desormeaux8-5
8Mr. JesterL. Meche12-1
9Caballero NegroC. Lanerie15-1

* All starters carry 124 pounds