03/10/2006 12:00AM

Will Minister Eric awaken on dirt?


ARCADIA, Calif. - Minister Eric has yet to live up to the potential indicated by his second-place finish in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Although he won the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes, minor injuries and an illness kept Minister Eric off the track for most of last year.

"He's had a lot of little things" go wrong, his trainer, Richard Mandella, said.

Sunday, Minister Eric makes his second start of 2006 in the $80,000 Santana Mile Handicap on the main track at Santa Anita. Mandella is hoping Minister Eric will use the race as a springboard to graded stakes later this year.

finished eighth in the Thunder Road Handicap on turf on Feb. 8, a start that Mandella regrets. He wishes that Minister Eric had returned in a shorter race.

"It was a mistake to run him a mile," Mandella said. "He's come back in good shape and he's worked well since. I think he'll run really well."

Minister Eric starts from post 4 in the Santana Mile, which has drawn 13 entries. The field will be limited to 10 starters.

Minister Eric must catch , the 8-year-old gelding who has won 12 of 46 starts and $749,222. Trained by David Bernstein, Truly a Judge won the Native Diver Handicap in December 2004 and the San Gabriel Handicap a month later. He has not started since finishing third in the Windy Sands Handicap at Del Mar on Sept. 5.

Truly a Judge has worked quickly in the last month, and will be ridden by Martin Pedroza.

"I think because of his age he'll need a race, but he is training as well as ever," Bernstein said. "Martin said that in his last three works he's shown good competitive fire."

Of the closers, could be a threat. Third in the 2004 Kentucky Derby, Imperialism was sixth in the Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap on Feb. 18, his first start of the year. He was fourth behind Minister Eric in the 2005 San Fernando Stakes.

Other contenders include Dixie Meister, who was second in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at Louisiana Downs on Jan. 7; Melanyhasthepapers, second in the Grade 3 All American Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 20; and Yes He's a Pistol, the five-length winner of an optional claimer for sprinters on Feb. 5.