07/31/2005 11:00PM

Surf Cat will stay out West, but Roman Ruler's ready to go

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Trainer Bob Baffert watches Roman Ruler's Monday morning workout.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - Trainer Bruce Headley sends his regrets, but not Surf Cat, for the $1 million Haskell Invitational on Sunday at Monmouth Park.

"I'm very sorry that we can't make it," Headley said. "I appreciate the invitation and really wish that we could come."

Headley said the shipping arrangements from California became too complicated.

"Some people said we shouldn't say anything until later, but we didn't want to scare anybody off," Headley said. "I have friends back there, and I really wanted to come, because we'd be one of the favorites and a win would get me really big stud money."

Headley's wife, Aase, is co-owner of the colt, along with Marsha Naify.

Surf Cat, winner of the Grade 2 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes, will remain at Del Mar for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 21.

The Haskell was under serious consideration, as it offered another chance to run against 3-year-olds. Surf Cat will now step up to face leading handicap runners in the Pacific Classic.

Roman Ruler has final work

Roman Ruler, the likely favorite for the Haskell, completed his preparations for the race with a swift five-furlong work in 58.60 seconds on Monday morning at Del Mar under exercise rider Dana Barnes.

Roman Ruler won last month's Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park after returning from a lengthy layoff necessitated by persistent foot problems. According to his trainer, Bob Baffert, Roman Ruler's foot trouble has eased.

"He worked great. He's doing good," Baffert said. "As long as his feet stay on, that's all that matters. I'm excited that he's training fantastic again. Dana says he feels better than he ever has."

Make room for Joey P.

Joey P. is back in the Haskell picture. The New Jersey-bred worked five furlongs in 1:03 Saturday at Monmouth. The drill put trainer Frankie Costa in a Haskell frame of mind.

"He went nice and easy," Costa said. "It looks like we're probably going to run in the Haskell, like 99 percent probable."

Joey P. was unbeaten in five sprints, including the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup Stakes, before trying two turns for the first time last out, where he finished third against older horses.

Trainer Jim Ryerson said Park Avenue Ball, the winner of the Grade 3 Long Branch Breeders' Cup Stakes, will have his final Haskell work Tuesday morning at Monmouth.

In another Haskell development, Gary Stevens will ride Chekhov for trainer Patrick Biancone. The injured Joe Bravo was aboard for the colt's second-place finish in the Long Branch. Bravo and Biancone teamed to win last year's Haskell with Lion Heart.

Other confirmed Haskell starters include Indy Storm and Papi Chullo.

Friendly Banker at next level

Friendly Banker felt so good that owner-trainer Oliver Keelan had a handful tugging on the shank as he walked the 4-year-old gelding to the track on a recent morning at Monmouth.

"He's feeling so high, which is a good thing," Keelan said. "We have a tough race on Wednesday. We're hoping he'll make a good account of himself."

Friendly Banker faces his biggest challenge in Wednesday's sixth race, a $41,000 allowance at 1 1/16 miles. He has won three in a row and now steps up to a second-level allowance spot.

Friendly Banker has come back in fine form this season following surgery to remove knee chips. He won both starts this meet by dueling for the early lead and eventually pulling away.

His latest win came in an off-the-turf allowance race on July 17.

"I normally don't run him this soon, but I have no choice, the way he's feeling," Keelan said. "If I don't, he's going to hurt himself."

The knee operation was performed after he won his maiden race here in September.

"He came back from that race on the vet's list," Keelan said. "He wouldn't let a horse pass him, even with the chips in the knee. He was so determined."

Keelan sent Friendly Banker to Dr. Patti Hogan, the surgeon who treated Afleet Alex and Smarty Jones, at the New Jersey Equine Clinic for the procedure.

"We took the time and took the chips out," Keelan said. "So far it has paid off rather well."

Friendly Banker is a New York-bred, but Keelan decided to run at Monmouth rather than risk a bad security-barn experience at Saratoga.

"He'd wreck one of those little stalls in a heartbeat," Keelan said. "We have a padded stall here for him, and he's almost wrecked that one."

As Keelan indicated, Friendly Banker finds himself in a challenging spot. Halos Sailing Sain and Golder Than Gold were also allowance winners last time out.

Dark Equation came off the bench for trainer Christophe Clement to miss by a head in his most recent effort.

The colt, making his season debut, earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 96, the best last-race and career number in the field.

Beckner out six to eight weeks

Dale Beckner is the latest in growing list of Monmouth jockeys sidelined by injury.

According Monmouth's medical director, Dr. Angelo Chinnici, Beckner will be sidelined six to eight weeks after breaking his left ankle in the sixth race on Friday.

Beckner was aboard Big Hearted Way, who veered out sharply and unseated Beckner. The horse was not injured.

Beckner, 32, won the 1994 Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice. He had nine winners at the meet, good for 17th place in the standings at the time of the injury.

Leading rider Bravo and Alan Garcia are both recovering from broken collarbones. Carlos Cruz remains out with a fractured knee.