03/06/2003 12:00AM

Ten standing at a crossroads

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ALBANY, Calif. - Saturday's $200,000, Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields will separate Triple Crown contenders from pretenders.

The 1 1/16-mile race drew 10 entrants, including a pair of locally based surprises, Allwood and Frisco Johnny.

A victory or a strong effort in the El Camino Real will propel a colt along the Triple Crown trail, while a poor race may require a change in plans.

"This is a pivotal race," Ocean Terrace's trainer, Bob Hess Jr., said. Hess said the outcome would go a long way to determine whether Ocean Terrace would continue on the Triple Crown trail "or whether we'll be looking at second- or third-tier races."

Neil Drysdale, trainer of morning-line favorite Ministers Wild Cat, views the race the same way.

"If he runs well enough, the next step is the Santa Anita Derby or Wood," he said.

Crackup's trainer, Rafael Becerra, whose colt defeated subsequent Fountain of Youth runner-up Supah Blitz in the Great State Challenge Juvenile, said, "This race will tell us a lot."

Ministers Wild Cat, Ocean Terrace, and Crackup, the top three choices on the morning line, drew the three outside posts - Crackup post 8, Ocean Terrace 9, and Ministers Wild Cat 10.

The draw may have helped local entrant Onebadshark the most. The speedy colt, making his two-turn debut, drew the rail and looks to be a potential pacesetter.

Ocean Terrace and Ministers Wild Cat also have good speed, but their outside draws may force their respective riders, Mike Smith and Kent Desormeaux, to use their colts a bit more than they would like in order to secure good position into the turn.

Ministers Wild Cat, ranked in the top 10 in Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch, may have the most to win or lose with his performance.

Although lightly raced with only three starts, he has exquisite breeding and a trainer who has won a Kentucky Derby and six Breeders' Cup races.

Ocean Terrace, a $700,000 Keeneland yearling purchase, has similar credentials to Ministers Wild Cat, but has never raced two turns. Ministers Wild Cat has a victory over this track in the Golden State Mile.

Crackup, who carries 120 pounds - five more than his nine rivals - has met the toughest competition. He lost to Siberland in his debut and was fourth behind Domestic Dispute in his last start, the Grade 2 Santa Catalina on Jan. 18 at Santa Anita.

"He's doing super good," Becerra said. "I think he has a good chance. He's matured a lot. He's easy to work with. He's 100 percent racehorse."

Ozzie Cat and Winning Stripes both have runner-up efforts in stakes races here this year. Ozzie Cat was beaten a neck by Standard Setter in the Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby, and locally based Winning Stripes was second to Ministers Wild Cat in the Golden State Mile.

Mr. Technique, a two-time stakes winner last year, and Ten Most Wanted, fourth in his stakes debut in Santa Anita's Sham Stakes in his last start, round out the field.

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