04/15/2006 12:00AM

Babies act age in first juvenile race


OLDSMAR Fla. - Springtime in the Thoroughbred world means two things: the Kentucky Derby and 2-year-old racing.

On Saturday, Tampa Bay Downs regulars watched the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes with keen interest, as three horses who raced in the March 18 Tampa Bay Derby competed in one of the final preps for the Kentucky Derby. Last Tuesday, youngsters went to the gate in the first 2-year-old race of the season here.

As is often the case with inexperienced runners, the race was an adventure.

The runners moved behind the starting gate for the quarter-mile race without incident, but as they approached the gate, Loch Green, who was favored, suddenly reared up and spun around. He most likely would have run off if not for the efforts of an assistant starter, who managed to hold on to Loch Green's lead strap.

Symphonic Sun, startled by the commotion to his inside, also reared up and bucked jockey Alfredo Clemente off, then took off up the chute with the outriders and pony people in pursuit. Symphonic Sun was quickly caught, but Clemente had twisted his knee when he was bucked off and had to be helped to the track ambulance.

When the field was finally loaded and sent on its way, Loch Green justified his role as the betting choice, leading throughout to post a neck win over A Slick Chic. Symphonic Sun, under substitute rider David Amiss, finished fourth, beaten two lengths.

Clemente was taken to the hospital for X-rays and had to take off the remainder of his mounts on the program. Two of his horses won.

Handling a group of green 2-year-olds is just one of the tough jobs that falls to the starting gate crew of starter Ron Dill. The group has done a yeoman's job this season in a profession where 99 good starts get no notice, and one bad start can be front-page news.

Tampa sprinter wins Shakertown

It used to be that handicappers who follow Tampa would salivate each spring as horses coming off this deep, stamina-building main track went to other venues and won. But based on the results of Friday's Grade 3, $100,000 Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland, Tampa's turf sprinters may also produce profits.

Merrill Scherer predicted last week that he would have a good meeting at Keeneland, and he wasn't lying. He sent out Atticus Kitty to post a neck upset over Around the Cape in the Shakertown. Atticus Kitty set the track record for five furlongs on turf here this winter, when he won an optional claimer in 55.02 seconds, and in his most recent start, he was fourth in the $75,000 Turf Dash here. Around the Cape finished third in the Turf Dash after hitting the inside rail during the race. The exacta returned $126.60.