03/08/2005 12:00AM

Derby dreams may bite dirt

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ARCADIA, Calif. - It probably is too late for any of the 3-year-olds in the fifth race Wednesday at Santa Anita to be considered hopefuls for the Kentucky Derby. But when exactly does it become too late to dream?

Richard Mandella smiled and said, "I don't want to talk about it."

Sure he does. Mandella is co-breeder, co-owner, and the sole trainer of lightly raced 3-year-old Ulistnintome, one of the favorites to win a 1 1/16-mile dirt race that carries Derby ramifications. The significance is not lost on Mandella.

"Anyone with a 3-year-old in a nonwinners-of-two lifetime - anyone with something that can run a little bit - will have interest," Mandella said.

While all six starters in race 5 have shown various degrees of ability, none has won two races.

scored an eight-length victory last out against $62,500 maiden claimers; Yes He's a Pistol finished a creditable fourth in his comeback; Lucky Bid chased promising Golden Shine in a similar spot one month ago; Greeley's Galaxy stretches out following a maiden sprint win; and Donnybrook Pride is running for the first time since a maiden win Dec. 26.

Many bettors will consider the most likely winner, based mostly on his form in successive turf races.

Mandella's partner in Ulistnintome is co-owner-breeder Gerald Ford, whose best horse, Pleasantly Perfect, originally was purchased as a Derby prospect. Although Pleasantly Perfect did not pan out as a young horse, he later won the Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup. Mandella and Ford would like another shot at the Derby, and nominated Ulistnintome to the Triple Crown. If he is that good, he can win the Thursday race allowance.

A runner-up finish Dec. 26 in a maiden dirt race that unfolded with a blistering pace proves that Ulistnintome can run on dirt. His deep-closing style, however, places him at the mercy of the fractions, and the horse to beat might be Seaport, the only starter with a recent two-turn dirt win.

Seapoint stretched out and dropped into a maiden claimer for his second start Feb. 10. The colt exploded to an eight-length win that was more visually impressive than the modest Beyer Speed Figure of 82 that it earned. Seapoint has trained super since, and enters as a deserving alternative to the favorite.