04/06/2003 11:00PM

Baze leads Indian Express bandwagon

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Second-place finishes in major races are getting old for 20-year-old jockey Tyler Baze.

On March 29 in Dubai, Baze rode Avanzado to a runner-up finish in the $2 million Golden Shaheen.

On Saturday, Baze nearly guided 35-1 Indian Express to an upset in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, losing by a head to Buddy Gil.

"I need to win one of these big races," Baze said on Sunday.

Best known so far as the 2000 Eclipse Award winner as the nation's outstanding apprentice jockey, Baze hasn't won a big race in recent weeks, but his career got a massive boost over the weekend.

On Sunday, trainer Bob Baffert said that Baze will have the mount on Indian Express in the Kentucky Derby on May 3. It will mark the first Kentucky Derby for Baze, whose career started in 1999.

Indian Express has defied expectations to become a Kentucky Derby hopeful. A Utah-bred by Indian Charlie who began his career with two sprint wins in Panama, Indian Express was making his second start for Baffert in the Santa Anita Derby.

On March 22, Indian Express finished fourth in the San Pedro Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs, in his first start for owner Phil Chess.

In the Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles, Baze was instructed to take Indian Express to the lead. The fourth-longest shot in a field of nine, Indian Express dueled with Ocean Terrace on the backstretch, led briefly on the final turn, and went after Buddy Gil throughout the stretch while racing along the rail.

"He did what he had to do," Baffert said of Baze. "I like jockeys that listen to me."

In the final furlong, it briefly appeared that Indian Express might beat Buddy Gil.

"He tried so hard," Baze said. "It's nice to have that feeling of being on a horse that tries so hard. "All the way down the lane, I kept saying, 'Give me a little more.'

"I don't think he was fit enough to go that far. It was his first time around two turns. I've got a lot of confidence that none of those horses in that race will beat him again, now that he's fit."

While walking back to the jockeys' room, Baze could barely contain his excitement over Indian Express's performance. Baffert noticed the same enthusiasm when Baze returned to the unsaddling area.

"He was so happy he had bugs in his teeth," Baffert said.

Ocean Terrace still Derby possible

Despite a last-place finish in Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, Ocean Terrace has not been ruled out as a candidate for the Kentucky Derby.

On Sunday, trainer Bob Hess Jr. stopped short of committing Ocean Terrace to the Kentucky Derby. He said the previously undefeated colt was scheduled to resume racetrack training on Tuesday. Hess said an evaluation on Ocean Terrace's next start will be made after consulting with owners Bill Bianco and David Shimmon, who race as the Fog City stable.

"I want to sit down with the Fog City people first," he said. "We'll go forward from there."

Expected to race from a stalking position, Ocean Terrace was on the lead for the first half-mile of the Santa Anita Derby, through quick fractions of 22.58 and 45.82 seconds. He faded from contention on the final turn and was eased in the stretch, finishing 47 1/2 lengths behind Buddy Gil.

"From a soundness standpoint, he's better than perfect," Hess said. "He bled a little bit but not enough to cause him to run so poorly. I don't attribute his poor performance to the bleeding."

Attendance down, handle up

Business was mixed on Saturday's Santa Anita Derby program, with ontrack attendance falling and key handle figures showing slight gains over 2002.

The ontrack attendance of 33,964 is a decline of 6 percent from last year, but the ontrack handle of $6,560,249 was an increase of 8 percent.

The overall handle of $24,521,135 was a gain of 1.6 percent, and the seventh-largest single-day handle in track history.

Publication's comeback impressive

Publication returned from a one-year layoff on Saturday to score an impressive victory in an optional claimer for sprinters. But his new trainer, Vladimir Cerin, was reluctant to take credit for the 4-year-old's first win since the 2001 Arlington Washington Futurity at Arlington Park.

"He's only been here nine days," Cerin said.

Cerin said that Mike Orman, a former racetrack trainer, prepared Publication for his comeback. Orman works for horse owner Ernie Moody at Moody's San Diego county farm.

Cerin said that bone chips and a cannon bone injury sidelined Publication following a sixth-place finish behind War Emblem in the 2002 Illinois Derby.

In six starts for trainer Terry Knight, Publication also finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park in 2001, losing by 3 1/4 lengths to eventual champion Johannesburg.

On Saturday, Publication was at the back of the field until the final furlong when he unleashed a wide rally that took him from eighth to first. Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Publication ($44.80) ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.61.

Cerin said there are no definite plans for Publication.

"The obvious temptation is to run him long, but he's such a great late-running sprinter," Cerin said. "But he's never had a fair shot going long."

Cerin is having a strong meeting at Santa Anita. Through Sunday, Cerin was third in the trainer standings with 24 wins.

But when asked if he thought he could pass Jeff Mullins, who was second with 26 wins, and finish a clear second to runaway leader Bob Baffert before the meeting ends on April 20, Cerin said: "No. I'm hoping to have them run well. I know how quickly it can go the other way."

Weekend emphasis on turf

With the nation's focus on Kentucky Derby preps in other parts of the country this weekend, the top races at Santa Anita are stakes for 3-year-olds on turf.

Singletary, the front-running winner of the Academy Road Stakes on March 14, is a leading contender for Saturday's $150,000 La Puente Stakes for 3-year-olds over a mile on turf.

Singletary gave owner Donald Chatlos Jr. his first Santa Anita stakes win in the $81,100 Academy Road. The La Puente is expected to have a tougher field, including Just Wonder, Nation Wide News, Our Bobby V., Slew City Citadel, and Steelaninch.

Just Wonder won an allowance race on turf on Jan. 31, but followed with a sixth in the San Rafael Stakes on March 1. Our Bobby V. was sixth in the San Rafael, but was second in the Grade 2 Santa Catalina. The La Puente will be Our Bobby V.'s turf debut.

In Sunday's $150,000 Providencia Stakes, Atlantic Ocean, the runner-up in the Fair Grounds Oaks last month, faces turf specialist Major Idea. Run over 1 1/8 miles on turf, the Providencia will be Major Idea's third appearance at the meeting.

Trained by Neil Drysdale, Major Idea has already won two minor stakes - the Blue Norther Handicap on Jan. 8 and the Some Sensation Stakes on March 13, both over a mile on turf.

Other probables for the Providencia are Makeup Artist, No Kings and Star Vega.

Rider Joe Steiner, who suffered facial injuries and a broken heel in a spill on Feb. 26, recently had a stabilizing pin removed from his heel, according to his wife, Jane, an exerciser rider at Santa Anita. Joe Steiner is expected to be out another several weeks.