12/31/2004 12:00AM

Track condition key to El Conejo

Benoit & Associates
McCann's Mojave (right) outruns Unfurl the Flag to win the Grade 2 Potrero Grande BC Handicap in March.

ARCADIA, Calif. - A steady rain was falling Friday morning as top sprinter McCann's Mojave headed to the Santa Anita racetrack, and trainer Leonard Dorfman shouted to the exercise rider, "Don't get him wet!"

Dorfman was joking, of course. A series of storms continued to soak Southern California into the weekend, and Dorfman said the condition of the racetrack will be a key factor in whether McCann's Mojave returns Sunday in the Grade 3 El Conejo Handicap at 5 1/2 furlongs.

"I'm dead against running on a sealed racetrack," Dorfman said. "If a horse has problems, he comes out with worse problems. If he does not have problems, he comes out with problems."

is arguably the best horse in the field but is unraced in eight months. Winner of the Grade 2 Potrero Grande here in March, McCann's Mojave had won five races and $280,820 from seven career starts before he was sidelined with a sprained right hock.

"You don't get a horse like this very often," Dorfman said, "and you try to be careful."

A wet surface is less concern for racing-fit El Conejo entrants. Top contenders include might wait for the Grade 2 Palos Verdes on Jan. 23.

At 5 1/2 furlongs in the slop, the El Conejo is a perfect fit for Hombre Rapido. "A speed-favoring track helps him, and this is his best distance, too," trainer John Sadler said.

Hombre Rapido, an 8-year-old gelding with five wins and earnings of $372,580 from 25 starts, set a track record at Hollywood in his only other 5 1/2-furlong race on a wet track.

There are no secrets to the strategy that jockey David Flores and Hombre Rapido will employ. "He does 44, 43-and-4," Sadler said of Hombre Rapido's half-mile times. In other words, come and catch him.

One horse who may keep Hombre Rapido honest is Revello, who is expected to improve following a better-than-looked third in a third-level allowance. Trainer Ted H. West said he was a work short going in, and racing beyond his preferred distance.

"We're going to let him use more of his speed," West said.