04/03/2006 11:00PM

Deputy Glitters flies under the radar so far

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Stephanie Van Minos / Tom Cooley
Wood contender Deputy Glitters is owner Joe Lacombe's second Kentucky Derby prospect.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Nine years after making it to his first Kentucky Derby, owner Joe Lacombe is on the brink of getting back there for a second time. The two experiences couldn't be any more different.

In 1997, when Lacombe brought Favorite Trick to the Derby he had the defending Horse of the Year, a Hall of Fame jockey in Pat Day, and a soon-to-be-elected Hall of Fame trainer in Bill Mott. Every move his horse made was chronicled. Though many doubted Favorite Trick's ability to get 1 1/4 miles, he was made the second betting choice. He finished eighth, 12 1/2 lengths behind Real Quiet.

This spring, as he prepares to bring Deputy Glitters to Churchill Downs next month, Lacombe has a relatively unknown horse, a fledgling jockey in 20-year-old Jose Lezcano, and a 48-year-old trainer in Tom Albertrani who has been out on his own for two years.

"It's a different experience, nonetheless very enjoyable," Lacombe said Tuesday from his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. "I don't really know that you can compare the two. With Favorite Trick I was much newer in the business. I've been through many, many horses since. I can tell you I thoroughly intend to enjoy this as much as you can and not get caught up in all the hype surrounding it."

Before last month, there wasn't any hype surrounding Deputy Glitters, who had won just one race from his first five starts. But after he upset the heavily favored Bluegrass Cat in last month's Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby - a performance that validated his close second-place finish to that same rival in the Sam F. Davis - Deputy Glitters is beginning to emerge as a serious Kentucky Derby contender.

Deputy Glitters, whom Lacombe bred, can further enhance his credentials with a strong performance in Saturday's wide-open $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, where Bob and John and Keyed Entry figure to vie for favoritism in a nine-horse field.

While Favorite Trick went 8 for 8 as a 2-year-old, including seven stakes wins, Deputy Glitters went just 1 for 3 at age 2. His debut was flashy enough, a 13 1/4-length romp in a $65,000 maiden-claiming race. The runner-up, Paving the Way, was claimed out of that race. Deputy Glitters was not.

Lacombe said he turned down an offer of $350,000 for Deputy Glitters after the race. Deciding he wanted to keep Deputy Glitters racing in New York, Lacombe changed trainers from the Kentucky-based Eddie Kenneally to Albertrani, who had opened up a public stable in 2004 after working for Godolphin Racing for nine years.

"I thought Tom, a New York trainer, was more capable at this point - and I don't mean that Eddie Kenneally is not a capable trainer, because he is - but I thought Tom was a better match for me, and as it's turned out Tom and I work very well together," Lacombe said.

Lacombe wanted to run Deputy Glitters in the Champagne. In addition to facing graded-stakes winners First Samurai and Henny Hughes, Deputy Glitters caught a sloppy track in the Champagne that he did not handle. He finished last of six, beaten 32 1/4 lengths.

Albertrani had higher hopes for Deputy Glitters in the six-furlong Huntington Stakes on Nov. 13. But the horse got involved in a speed duel and faded to fourth. His 3-year-old debut was much the same. In a one-turn mile allowance race at Gulfstream, Deputy Glitters contested the pace between horses before backing up to fifth.

Watching Deputy Glitters gallop out after that race, however, showed Albertrani he had something to work with once he stretched the colt out around two turns.

In the Sam Davis, Deputy Glitters was 63-1, made a wide move, and was only beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Bluegrass Cat. In the Tampa Derby, Deputy Glitters stalked a slower pace and turned back Bluegrass Cat, who reportedly threw a shoe in the race.

"The whole thing was going two turns," Albertrani said. "He wasn't being taken off his feet early on, and I think that's what really made him into a better horse."

Lezcano, a native of Panama who has been riding in the U.S. for only two years, has been aboard Deputy Glitters in his last two starts. In 2004, Lezcano was the leading apprentice rider at Saratoga and the Belmont fall meet. This winter, he is the runaway leading rider at Tampa Bay, with 89 wins from 320 mounts through Monday.

Both Lacombe and Albertrani said they plan to keep Lezcano aboard for the Kentucky Derby.

"I'm very, very comfortable with Jose Lezcano," Lacombe said. "He's given us two very fine rides. If you look back, Favorite Trick only had one jockey for his whole career.

I believe if the horse and jockey fit together, it's best you keep them together."

Albertrani said Deputy Glitters has come out of the Tampa Bay Derby in excellent shape and appears to be moving forward in his training for the Wood.

"We're going in feeling pretty confident knowing he was able to beat a top Derby contender in the Tampa Derby," Albertrani said.

After Saturday, they may be using the phrase "top Derby contender" when referring to Deputy Glitters.