09/18/2003 12:00AM

Ten Most Wanted, Soto set to clash

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Ten Most Wanted comes into the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby off his 4 1/2-length win in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

BOSSIER CITY, La. - A lot happened in the 3-year-old division during August. Minor health issues tampered with the schedules of Funny Cide and Empire Maker, and while they were away, Ten Most Wanted and Soto emerged as two of the hottest 3-year-olds in the nation with respective wins in the Travers and West Virginia Derby.

Saturday at Louisiana Downs, the paths of Ten Most Wanted and Soto cross for the first time in the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby - a race that through the years has seen six of its starters capture the Breeders' Cup Classic.

That is a goal for Ten Most Wanted, who is expected to be a slight favorite over Soto in a six-horse field. The other starters are Kool Humor, Zydeco Affair, Crowned King, and Taxicat, the first four finishers in the $50,000 Prelude at Louisiana Downs.

Ten Most Wanted and Soto are both coming into the Super Derby in peak form. Soto, undefeated in five career starts, set a track record last out when he won the Grade 3, $600,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park on Aug. 9. The West Virginia Derby is run over the same 1 1/8-mile trip as the Super Derby, and Soto covered the distance in a breathtaking 1:46.20.

Ten Most Wanted put on a show of his own a few weeks later, when he picked one of racing's biggest stages to run the best race of his career. After stalking a hot pace in the $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 23, Ten Most Wanted went on to a 4 1/2-length win over Grade 1 winner Peace Rules. Ten Most Wanted added blinkers for the race.

"The race set up perfect for us because the pace was very fast," said Wally Dollase, who co-owns and trains Ten Most Wanted. "We were right on them after a mile, and the last quarter he just went by them easily. He just coasted the last eighth. It wasn't that fast, but there was no reason to go any faster that day.

"I think he will definitely move forward."

Ten Most Wanted has made rapid progress this season. Sandwiched between his eight-length maiden win in January and his Travers romp last month were a four-length win in the Grade 2 Illinois Derby and a second-place finish to Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes.

Dollase, who won the Super Derby in 1997 with Ten Most Wanted's sire, Deputy Commander, has given the mount to Pat Day.

Soto, who figures to race closer to the early pace than Ten Most Wanted, will be making his third start back from a layoff Saturday. Soto won his comeback from a seven-month vacation, necessitated by a sore shin, in a six-furlong allowance on July 19.

Following that race, he turned back a determined Dynever in the West Virginia Derby and won by a neck. Soto's effort impressed many, including his trainer, Michael Dickinson.

"I thought he showed a lot of class and a lot of courage," said Dickinson. "He wasn't 100 percent fit. He was fit enough. It's a huge jump to go from six furlongs to nine furlongs in three weeks. I'm full of praise for him."

Dickinson wanted to make sure Soto had ample time to regroup from the race - for which he was given a 114 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest of any horse in Saturday's field - so he decided to skip a planned start in the Grade 3, $500,000 Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 1 and wait for the Super Derby.

Soto was scheduled to be flown from his Maryland base to Louisiana on Friday after the departure of Hurricane Isabel. Ramon Dominguez, who leads the nation in victories and was aboard Soto in the West Virginia Derby, has the mount.

The field

Super Derby

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

PPHORSEJOCKEYODDS
1Ten Most WantedP. Day3-5
2TaxicatJ. Jacinto50-1
3Kool HumorK. Clark8-1
4SotoR. Dominguez8-5
5Crowned KingC. Rennie20-1
6Zydeco AffairG. Melancon20-1

* All starters carry 124 pounds

* Odds by Byron King