04/03/2007 11:00PM

Circular Quay: A homebred home run

Circular Quay, the gifted Michael Tabor homebred, will face Nobiz Like Shobiz in Saturday's Wood Memorial.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Whether it be at auction or through private purchase, Michael Tabor is unabashed in his quest to obtain his next big horse. But for all the money he spent at the 2-year-old sales in 2006 and the yearling sales in 2005, Tabor's next big horse may have been born right in his own back yard.

Circular Quay, the winner of last summer's Grade 1 Hopeful and this spring's Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, has emerged as a leading candidate for this year's Kentucky Derby. Tabor and trainer Todd Pletcher were going to send Circular Quay against Nobiz Like Shobiz in Saturday's Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, but on Tuesday night Pletcher said they had decided to skip the Wood and go straight to the Derby.

Circular Quay, named for the hub of social activity in Sydney, Australia, is a homebred son of Tabor's 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch and Tabor's Grade 1-winning mare Circle of Life. Circular Quay was foaled at Ashford Stud in Kentucky, the American division of Coolmore, Tabor's frequent partner in racehorses. Tabor, 65, a former owner of English betting shops who is now a co-owner of 14 fitness centers across Britain, purchased Thunder Gulch privately in the fall of 1994. He bought Circle of Life for $700,000 at auction in the winter of 1999. Circle of Life won the Grade 1 Spinaway in her third lifetime start.

"I do know that [Tabor] is very excited," said Pletcher, who was an assistant trainer of Thunder Gulch, trained Circle of Life, and is the trainer of Circular Quay. "As much as it is rewarding for me to train a good horse out of Circle of Life, he takes even more pleasure in the fact this is a true homebred for him, by a sire he raced out of a dam that he raced. To him, I think he gets more excitement from the homebreds than sometimes the ones that he purchases. He's pretty excited about this horse."

Some of Tabor's auction purchases, either solo or with partners, include Pavarotti ($2.5 million), Belgravia ($2 million), and Ravel ($950,000), who was knocked off the Triple Crown trail with an injury. Tabor and partners spent $1.9 million on Rags to Riches, who has emerged as the leading contender for this year's Kentucky Oaks.

Then, of course, there was the $16 million that Tabor and his Coolmore partners spent on The Green Monkey, a colt who has yet to make it to the races and who wasn't even nominated to the Triple Crown. The Green Monkey has been sidelined since November with a pulled muscle. He could rejoin Pletcher's stable soon.

"Maybe this time next year he'll be what we hope he can be," Pletcher said of The Green Monkey. "We don't sit around and dwell what could have been or what might have been. If we were going to sit around and dwell about anything it would be Ravel not making it. That would be more of an impact at this stage."

Circular Quay, a winner of 4 of 7 starts and more than $1.1 million, has one of the most explosive stretch runs of any leading 3-year-old in training. As a 2-year-old, Circular Quay rallied from 13 lengths off the pace to win the Grade 1 Hopeful by 4 1/4 lengths over Scat Daddy, a horse Tabor bought a half-interest in from Pletcher and his father, Jake, last fall.

In his 3-year-old debut, in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, Circular Quay had to avoid a fallen rider at the top of the stretch. He ended up fifth, the only time he has ever finished worse than second. Circular Quay rebounded by displaying another devastating stretch kick to make up 12 lengths to win the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby last month.

That Circular Quay, who finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, falls so far out of it early in his races is a facet of his laid-back personality, which Pletcher said the colt inherited from both of his parents. Pletcher said Circular Quay has taken that attribute to another level.

"He's literally just as low-key as a horse can be around the barn and he's low-key in his training to a point," Pletcher said. "When you ask him to do something, he has that capability, but he's not a really forward, aggressive-training horse. I think that's a good thing. He gets a lot of his demeanor from Thunder Gulch, but the mare was like that, too.

"He sort of developed his own personality in terms of running style," he added. "Neither one of those two were quite off the bridle as much as he is."

As a late-runner, Circular Quay is often at the mercy of pace. If the early fractions of a race are strong, he will benefit. If not, he may struggle. An expected large field with a hot pace in the Kentucky Derby could favor him.

"There's a fine line between taking him out of the style in which he wants to run and getting too far out of it," Pletcher said. "What we've got to hope for is on the big day it's like a lot of the last few Derbies have been - there's a lot of pace in there. If they fly early, he's going to benefit, but if it's a War Emblem year and somebody walks the dog it could be a problem.

"I think at the end of the day what you want to do is let the horse run the style in which he's most comfortable, and he's been very effective doing that."