08/04/2004 11:00PM

Connections believe in Britt's Jules

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After 12 starts, all of them sprints in Louisiana, Britt's Jules seemed typecast. A five-time winner, including three minor stakes at Delta Downs, Britt's Jules was destined to spend his racing career roaming from one small track in Cajun country to another.

Eric Guillot, who trains in Louisiana, took notice of Britt's Jules and thought the 3-year-old gelding was capable of more. Guillot envisioned Britt's Jules going long. He also believed Britt's Jules had sufficient potential to make an impact on the national level.

After being acquired through a private purchase, Britt's Jules has proven Guillot correct. The horse improved in his first two starts for his new connections while racing beyond a mile, and now seeks to continue his progress as one of the favorites in Saturday's Grade 3, $600,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Race Track.

Guillot and his partner, Mike Marino, who race under the name Southern Equine Stables, got their first glimpse of Britt's Jules earlier this year when he appeared in the same race as one of their horses.

"He was about 100 pounds overweight, and he was being asked to run after shipping in the same day as the race, but he was impressive sprinting," Marino recalled. "Eric said he thought the horse could be something special."

It took about four months of negotiation to persuade owner Floyd Williams to accept a $100,000 offer for Britt's Jules.

In his first start for Guillot and Marino, Britt's Jules romped in a stakes that was moved from the turf to the main track at Louisiana Downs. That encouraged Guillot to take Britt's Jules outside Louisiana for the first time in the Leonard Richards, a Grade 3 stakes worth $250,000 at Delaware Park.

After setting swift fractions of 46.57 seconds for a half-mile and 1:11.19 for the first six furlongs of the 1 1/16-mile race, Britt's Jules was overtaken in the stretch by Pollard's Vision, a horse he must face again in the West Virginia Derby.

Guillot said he is optimistic that the outcome will be different, even though the race is a half-furlong longer at 1 1/8 miles.

"He was a little fractious in the gate and he broke sideways," Guillot said of the July 18 Richards. "Then he bumped against another horse and he was shook up. After that, he just wanted to go."

Guillot and Marino have owned horses together for five years. Although they primarily race in Louisiana, they are not afraid of traveling when they have the right horse. In 1999 and 2000 they logged a lot of miles with the female sprinter Show Me the Stage, who in 34 starts won 14 races, including graded stakes in Southern California, Arkansas, and Florida, while earning $679,053.

Marino said the goal with Britt's Jules is to teach him to rate.

"He ran suicidal fractions last time, but that was only his second route race," Marino said. "Eric is trying to get him to relax."

With that goal in mind, Guillot has given the mount to Corey Lanerie for the West Virginia Derby.

"Corey is good at getting horses to relax that other jockeys aren't able to get to relax," Guillot said.

If Britt's Jules runs well, the next likely target would be the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. But as a son of Jules, he shares the same sire as Peace Rules, who won three times on turf as a 2-year-old, including a Grade 3 stakes.

"He has tons of natural speed," Marino said. "We think he would be perfect for certain turf courses that favor speed, like Lone Star."

Left unsaid is the fact that Lone Star will host this year's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, which include two grass races for males. That just gives Guillot and Marino another option for Britt's Jules, a horse who they believe has yet to tap his full potential.