10/10/2001 11:00PM

Best to come with Sharp Performance

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ELMONT, N.Y. - A star in the making?

By this time next year, everyone in racing should be aware of Sharp Performance and his skills on the turf. For the moment, he is a work in progress.

He has already displayed considerable promise, winning the Lexington Stakes and finishing a close third in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park. He looks very much the favorite for Saturday's $150,000 Lawrence Realization at 1 1/2 miles on the grass. A victory would confirm the impression that he is our best 3-year-old turf horse, with the potential for even greater accomplishment.

"Physically, he is a big, rangy individual," trainer David Donk said. "He is still growing and still learning how to run. Chris McCarron rode him in the Secretariat, when he was beaten a nose and half a length, and said Sharp Performance made five moves. This is a really good colt. The only thing he lacks is experience."

Donk, who trained Awad, a winner of more than $3 million on the grass, selected Sharp Performance out of the Keeneland September sales of 1999 for $175,000 on behalf of John T. Behrendt, William Bloom, and Charles Marquis.

Behrendt and Marquis are attorneys and New Yorkers. Bloom is an importer of seafood and lives in New Jersey. The three men have confidence in their trainer and the patience that is so important with late-developing horses.

Donk told them not to expect anything from Sharp Performance at 2. The growthy Kris S. colt never even got to the races that year, but he showed promise, which materalized at 3. In his first start, he closed well at 1 1/16 miles on the turf to be beaten a length. He then ran off three consecutive wins, improving with each race, before his narrow loss in the Secretariat to two nice colts, Startac and Strut the Stage.

Sharp Performance comes by his penchants for stamina and the turf naturally enough. His sire, Kris S., is a son of the Epsom Derby winner Roberto, and has been so successful, with 60 stakes winners, that he stands for a fee of $150,000. Sharp Performance hasn't started since his appearance in Chicago in mid-August, but Donk is not concerned on that score. The trainer served as an assistant to the late Woody Stephens, who stressed fitness above all else and proved his point with five consecutive Belmont victories.

Patience was another foundation block for Stevens, and Donk has come to appreciate its value. He knows Sharp Performance's time will come with maturity as a 4-year-old, and has made limited use of the colt this year.

Sharp Performance has started only five times and may have only one more race this year after the Realization. The temptation is to run them, but sometimes it is smart to wait.