Firm Test for Rock Hard Ten in Strub
Photo: Benoit
Rock Hard Ten
(from Santa Anita report)
Rock Hard Ten makes his debut as a 4-year-old Saturday against a quality field in the $300,000 Strub Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park.

The 1 1/8-mile Strub, restricted to 4-year-olds, reunites the first three finishers of last spring's Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) – Castledale, Imperialism and the aforementioned Rock Hard Ten, who was disqualified from second and placed third after making an impressive rally.

Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) winner Love of Money and Good Reward, who captured the Hollywood Derby (gr. I) on the grass in November, are also lined up for the 10-horse Strub field.

Rock Hard Ten turned heads with his size and power in last year's Santa Anita Derby and Triple Crown races, which included a second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), but was perhaps a bit too raw to find the winners' circle.

On opening day at Santa Anita Dec. 26, he looked like he'd grown out of his clumsiness, coming from last and weaving through the field to win the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) after a layoff of nearly four months.

Now under the steady hand of trainer Richard Mandella and jockey Gary Stevens, a pair of Hall of Fame members, Rock Hard Ten is expected to make an impact on the national handicap scene in 2005.

Usually a strong finisher, the colt figures to be more comfortable in the 1 1/8-mile Strub than the seven-furlong Malibu.

"He's a mile-and-an-eighth, mile-and-a-quarter-type," Mandella said. "They're supposed to benefit (from the change in distance) but they don't always do what they're supposed to."

The Strub is the final leg of the three-part Strub Series. The Malibu was the first leg, the Jan. 15 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II), which Rock Hard Ten sat out, was the second. Mandella won that race anyway with Minister Eric, who will pass on the Strub with tender ankles.

Mandella has done little but win at the 2004-05 Santa Anita meeting, winning four stakes -- two grade I's and two grade II's -- and with 46% of his starters.

Imperialism, one of Rock Hard Ten's chief rivals last year, is also set to go in the Strub, with a familiar face in the saddle. Alex Solis, who has been sidelined for nearly six months with a spinal injury, will return to racing on Saturday.

"It's ironic how life is," the 40-year-old jockey said. "You do something for 24 years and you don't realize how much you love it until you don't do it. It's very difficult. It makes me understand how much I love riding horses and how much I love being here."

Solis will try to find some new life in Imperialism, who has not won since winning the San Rafael (gr. II) in March.

Corey Nakatani, who is coming off a long layoff himself after serving a 30-day suspension, will ride Good Reward, who figures to be one of the Strub's leading contenders.

Castledale makes his second start since a 14th-place finish in the 2004 Kentucky Derby, which followed his upset win in the Santa Anita Derby for trainer Jeff Mullins.

$300,000 Strub Stakes (gr. II), 4-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight
1. Hendrix, Patrick Valenzuela, 117
2. Skipaslew, Kent Desormeaux, 117
3. Good Reward, Corey Nakatani, 123
4. Castledale, Jose Valdivia Jr., 119
5. Love of Money, Victor Espinoza, 123
6. My Creed, Tyler Baze, 117
7. Rock Hard Ten, Gary Stevens, 121
8. Imperialism, Alex Solis, 119
9. Diamond Fury, Casey Fusilier, 117
10. With Distinction, Jon Court, 117

On Saturday's undercard is the $100,000 Sham Stakes, a race that has seen some of the nation's top 3-year-old talent in its four-year history, including 2003 Belmost Stakes (gr. I) winner Empire Maker.

$100,000 Sham Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles
1. Papi Chullo, Patrick Valenzuela
2. Salty Humor, Isaias Enriquez
3. Uncle Denny, Rene Douglas
4. General, John B. Court
5. Iced Out, Martin Pedroza
6. Cadillac Cruiser, Corey Nakatani
7. Chekhov, Gary Stevens
8. Southern Africa, Tyler Baze
9. Going Wild, Victor Espinoza
10. Giacomo, Mike Smith
11. Devil's Bay, Garrett Gomez
All 11 colts and geldings will carry 117 pounds.

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