03/06/2002 1:00AM

Derby Dan the shirttail man


Dan Chandler, a transplanted Kentuckian living in Las Vegas, knows a lot about the Kentucky Derby winner's circle, where he hopes to be standing with his namesake, Danthebluegrassman, in a couple months.

"My daddy gave away more Kentucky Derby trophies [eight] than any other man last century," said Chandler, who is the son of the late Kentucky governor, senator, and Major League Baseball commissioner Albert B. "Happy" Chandler.

Chandler would accompany his father to the winner's circle presentations. He now has hopes of accompanying long-time friend Mike Pegram and trainer Bob Baffert to the winner's circle this year. "It would be the end of an incredible dream for me," Chandler said. "I spent a lot of time in the winner's circle, and it looks like I'm still on someone's shirttails."

will run in Saturday's El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields as he continues on the road to the May 4 Kentucky Derby.

Chandler, like Will Rogers, seems never to have met a man he didn't like - or who didn't like him.

"I grew up in the same town as [trainer] Mack Miller," said Chandler. "After [Miller] won the [1993] Derby with Sea Hero, I was so proud of him that by the time I was done talking to people about him, we lived next door to each other."

Like many Kentuckians, Chandler appreciates good horses, although he has only owned one horse in his life. "I just put a toe in the water, no more," he said. His lone ownership venture was in a partnership for a colt that Miller trained.

"He never did anything," Chandler said, laughing. "I didn't know anything about it, but the horse couldn't run."

Chandler and Pegram, who made his money with McDonald's franchises, have been friends for more than 20 years. The two met when Chandler, who works as a greeter for Caesars in Las Vegas, was involved with the launch of Caesars Lake Tahoe. The two became friends.

"Look at him," said Pegram, pointing to the robust Chandler. "He was a good customer of mine."

"With Mike, it's like being on a tsunami," Chandler said. "You either surf or go under." Chandler can surf with the best of them and has traveled the world with Pegram. The two were in Dubai together when Captain Steve, named for Louisville police captain Steve Thompson, another Pegram friend, won the Dubai World Cup last year.

Pegram had told Chandler he wanted to name a horse after him and came up with Danthebluegrassman.

"I'm so flattered they named him after me," Chandler said of the colt, who has won the Gold Rush Stakes and Golden Gate Derby in his past two starts. "They were bringing him along slowly, and Baffert said they named him after me because he was a slow learner."

But Danthebluegrassman learned his lessons well, and now he is Baffert's top Derby candidate.

"My daddy used to say he never met a Kentuckian who wasn't sooner or later going back home," Chandler said. "I've got my fingers crossed that I'll be home in two months."