05/20/2005 11:00PM

Cool Conductor pulls upset for new trainer

Longshot Cool Conductor (left) hooks up with favored Artie Schiller in a ding-dong stretch duel in the Dixie Handicap.

BALTIMORE - Ralph Nicks was part of many big wins while working for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. On Saturday, Nicks got to enjoy a big win all by himself.

Less than two weeks after taking over the training of Cool Conductor from Mott, Nicks earned his first graded stakes win when Cool Conductor outfinished odds-on choice Artie Schiller by a nose to win the Grade 2, $200,000 at Pimlico. It was 2 1/4 lengths back to Good Reward in third. Better Talk Now and Grato Recuerdo completed the order of finish.

Owner David Garner transferred Cool Conductor from Mott to Nicks the day after Cool Conductor was disqualified from first place in an allowance race at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. According to Nicks, Garner wanted his horses under one shed row. Garner has two other horses with Nicks.

"I had met him at the time I was working for Bill," said Nicks, who left Mott in the spring of 2003 to become jockey Mark Guidry's agent. "It was one of those things, hopefully, handled the best way possible."

The Dixie came up a paceless race. Grato Recuerdo, the 14-1 outsider, set pedestrian fractions of 26.33 seconds, 51.99, and 1:16.82 for six furlongs with Artie Schiller chasing in second. Artie Schiller, under Edgar Prado, made the front around the turn, but was soon tackled by Cool Conductor, under Cornelio Velasquez.

The two were head-and-head through the stretch with Cool Conductor outside of Artie Schiller. Artie Schiller, carrying six pounds more than Cool Conductor, bobbled in deep stretch as Cool Conductor prevailed. Cool Conductor, a 4-year-old son of Stravinsky, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.79 over a good turf and returned $24.

"When it was such a short field I was hoping there would be a couple of faster horses in there with the idea he is a little rank sometimes," Nicks said. "Cornelio did a fabulous job with him. Maybe the horse is starting to mature a little bit mentally and be a little more professional in his races."

Prado did not use the bobble as an excuse for Artie Schiller. "He bobbled a couple of times in the stretch, but he was trying hard," Prado said. "We finished running from the quarter to the wire. I didn't have much excuse really."

Jockey Ramon Dominguez said defending Breeders' Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now, who finished fourth, was compromised by the slow pace.

Nicks said he would most likely run Cool Conductor back in the $250,000 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs on July 4.