02/19/2003 12:00AM

Turf sprint sets up for a closer

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The best race Friday at Santa Anita is a worst-case scenario for a speed horse such as Rocky Bar. "One way or another, he's going to be on the lead," said trainer Kory Owens.

This presents an immediate dilemma. Although Rocky Bar is the fastest horse in the $75,000 Reb's Policy Handicap, Owens admits Rocky Bar's chance to win the 6 1/2-furlong turf race depends largely on "how much pressure they put on him." Unfortunately for Rocky Bar, the pace pressure figures to be severe.

Joined by committed front-runners Devil's Horn and Grandiser, Rocky Bar should set blazing fractions in the downhill sprint. The scenario badly compromises the need-the-lead speedball, and if the Reb's Policy unfolds as expected, victory by a late-runner is almost guaranteed. The question is, who?

Kachamandi, Morocco, and 118-pound highweight Spinelessjellyfish are the leading contenders. Master Belt and Los Solano are come-from-behind longshots, while presser Ecstatic races in an entry with Morocco, who enters as the most probable Reb's Policy winner.

Ecstatic and Morocco fell short of expectations Jan. 16. At odds of 2-1 they finished third and fourth, respectively, in a classified allowance. Ecstatic was wheeling back just 14 days after his previous start and had reason to misfire. Morocco's alibi? "I think he needed the race, he just wasn't sharp," trainer Richard Mandella said. The explanation is reasonable, considering Morocco was racing for the first time in more than a year.

A proven downhill specialist, Morocco is expected to improve second start back. He has had four workouts since his fourth-place comeback, and Mandella is optimistic. "I think he'll run better this time," he said. If so, Morocco will have no excuse, because the Reb's Policy should unfold in favor of a deep closer. Victor Espinoza rides Morocco, a 6-year-old with 4 wins and earnings of $133,640 from 14 starts.

Otherwise, Kachamandi is a good fit. He chased Grade 1 winner Redattore in a classified mile on Feb. 8, finishing third while beaten six lengths. In his previous start down the hill - the race in which Ecstatic and Morocco finished three-four - Kachamandi finished second by a head. Trained by Barry Abrams, Kachamandi has won 8 of 47. Pat Valenzuela rides.

Spinelessjellyfish, a 7-year-old, found nine furlongs too far in a restricted stakes Jan. 25, and Friday he cuts back to the distance of his Cal-bred stakes win on Jan. 5. Trained by Jenine Sahadi, Spinelessjellyfish has won 10 races and $817,533 from 35 starts. Julie Krone rides.

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