03/20/2002 1:00AM

Cheaper to keep him? No, but more fun

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FLORENCE, Ky. - Under different circumstances, Saratoga Blues would be long gone from the 30-horse stable that Tony Dutrow trains at Laurel Park in Maryland.

There are few things that Dutrow loves more than selling a horse at his peak value. And with , who is undefeated in three starts and frequently mentioned as one of the most promising 3-year-olds in America, it would seem there's no time like the present to sell.

"Sure, I wouldn't mind selling him," said Dutrow. "But the owners don't want to."

Actually, Dutrow, 43, is one of the owners in Saratoga Blues, who may be a slight favorite over seven other 3-year-olds Saturday in the $500,000 Lane's End Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. But three other owners - Alvin Akman, Howard Bender, and Dr. Herb Kushner, all from the Baltimore area - are financially secure and having too much fun with Saratoga Blues to sell the colt.

Turning a hot prospect into a tidy profit has become something of a modus operandi for Dutrow, whose father, Dick Dutrow Sr., was a standout trainer in Maryland and New York for nearly three decades until his death in 1998, and whose younger brother, Richard Dutrow Jr., has become a leading trainer in New York. In recent years, Tony, who became a licensed trainer in 1986, has sold such horses as Good Game, an eventual multiple turf stakes winner for Will Farish; Global Gait, an early season Derby prospect last year for Bob Baffert; and Smooth Jazz, the 2002 Best Turn winner who last weekend set the pace before fading in the Florida Derby for new trainer Todd Pletcher.

Not that Dutrow doesn't enjoy keeping a good horse around for a little action. Last year, he guided Burning Roma to a highly productive season for owner Harold Queen, who eventually turned over the colt, now 4, to Bill Mott. And now Dutrow has Saratoga Blues on a path toward the Triple Crown, although probably not the Kentucky Derby.

"After this, we'll probably run in the Tesio back home [at Pimlico], then hopefully the Preakness," Dutrow said. "We're all Maryland folks, so that sounds like a plan."

Saratoga Blues, a Twining colt who Dutrow bought for $30,000 last year, has shown excellent speed in his three races, all of which were run around two turns. Dutrow said he purposely bypassed the one-turn Gotham Stakes at a mile last weekend in favor of the 1 1/8-mile Spiral.

"I think this horse is leading people to believe he's something he's not," said Dutrow. "He's not a fast horse in the sense of a classic sprinter; it's been the distances of his races allowing him to run that way. I really believe he's tactically sound and that he can show a new dimension when he wants. And hopefully he'll keep winning."

Indeed, the trainer would love to be sold on Saratoga Blues again Saturday - even if the horse is not.