03/26/2004 12:00AM

WinStar Derby: Baffert, O'Neill both saddle two


SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - Sunday's $500,000 at Sunland Park mirrors the 3-year-old picture in general: It is confusing with apparently little separating the top contenders.

Trainers Bob Baffert and Doug O'Neill have each sent in a pair of horses for the 1 1/16-mile WinStar, suggesting that even they see the need for reinforcements. All four horses will run as individual betting interests.

The entrants from the powerful Baffert barn, Consecrate at 3-1 and Teton Forest at 4-1, are the top two morning-line choices. O'Neill's pair of Perfect Moon and Hosco are 9-2 and 6-1, respectively, the third and fourth choices on the line.

Consecrate finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in October, and this year has been third in the Grade 2 San Vicente and the Grade 2 San Rafael. Javier Santiago, who has won the Louisiana Derby and San Felipe this month for Baffert, has the mount.

Teton Forest will be making only his fourth career start. In his last race, he finished second in a one-mile entry-level allowance, beaten less than two lengths by Rock Hard Ten. Emile Ramsammy will ride.

O'Neill, who won last year's inaugural WinStar Derby with Excessivepleasure, is confident in each of his horses. "Both these horses bear striking similarities to Excessivepleasure last year at this time, in seasoning and style," O'Neill said. "I'm optimistic they will run well."

Perfect Moon won the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile and the Grade 2 Best Pal sprinting during his 2-year-old season, but has not won in his last five starts, four of which have come around two turns. Russell Baze will ride Perfect Moon for the first time.

Hosco, like Consecrate, ran well in defeat in his last two starts, most recently weakening in the final furlong of the San Rafael after contesting a hot pace. Roberto Gonzalez will ride Hosco.

Trainer Elliott Walden on Sunday runs Victory Light, who is owned by WinStar Farm. Walden is hoping Victory Light's poor 2004 debut was due at least partially to a sloppy track at Gulfstream on Feb. 25. Last year, Victory Light finished second in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine before running fifth behind Eurosilver in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, giving Walden reason to believe he might be a Derby prospect.

"He trained well going into his first race, and he has trained well since," Walden said Friday. "I expect him to run well." Pat Day, who won this race last year on Excessivepleasure, will be aboard Victory Light.

Four locals are entered, of which Rocky Gulch may be the most exciting.