05/01/2002 11:00PM

Derby rookies dream of winning the big one


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The nine first-time participants among the jockeys and trainers in Saturday's Kentucky Derby hail from remarkably diverse backgrounds.

Jeff Mullins, the trainer of longshot Lusty Latin, grew up in South Jordan, Utah, and seldom dreamed of the Kentucky Derby in faraway Louisville. The non-parimutuel Quarter Horse races at Laurel Brown Track was more his speed.

Aidan O'Brien, who starts 2-year-old champion Johannesburg and the group stakes winner Castle Gandolfo, is from Ireland, and the son of a trainer.

Among the three jockeys who are Derby rookies, Rene Douglas, who was born in Panama, is the most accomplished in the Triple Crown, having won the 1996 Belmont Stakes on Editor's Note, his first mount in that race. Glenn Corbett, who rides Lusty Latin, was a rodeo star in high school. The third rookie jockey is Eddie Martin Jr., rider of It'sallinthechase, who was the leading rider at Fair Grounds over the winter.

All nine first-time jockeys and trainers are dreaming of beginner's luck in the run for the roses.

The last trainer to score with his first Derby starter was Neil Drysdale with Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. The last jockey to achieve that feat was Ronnie Franklin with Spectacular Bid in 1979.

Douglas, for one, is ready for the challenge on the longshot Wild Horses.

"I won the Belmont the first time I rode it," Douglas said. "I can win the big races. It would be great to win this."

O'Brien and James Bond have the best chances among the rookie trainers. Bond, who trains Buddha, winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes, knows big-race success. He won the 1996 Travers Stakes with Will's Way and four consecutive graded stakes with Behrens in the 1990's.

Bond, Mullins, and O'Brien are joined by first-time trainers Wilson Brown (It'sallinthechase), Steve Margolis (Request for Parole), and Ted H. West (Easy Grades).

In the cases of Lusty Latin and It'sallinthechase, the jockey-trainer combinations stem from longtime relationships.

Through the spring, Lusty Latin's jockey, Corbett; trainer, Mullins; and owners, Joey and Wendy Platts, decided to stick together. Some jockeys were fired as the Kentucky Derby neared, but Mullins opted to keep Corbett, Lusty Latin's regular rider this year.

"I wouldn't want to get thrown overboard," Mullins said. "I could get replaced just as easily [as the jockey]. I haven't been here either. We've ridden this ship this far together; we might as well go on. I'm sure Angel Cordero and all them had their first trip to the Derby. Why not make it one more guy's first trip?

"I want someone who believes in me and the horse and not someone who just wants a mount in the Derby."

Joey and Wendy Platts are rookie owners. Fusao Sekiguchi, who owned Fusaichi Pegasus, was the last owner to be a first-time winner.

"Glenn has a big enough name for us," Joey Platts said. "I'm not going to be the guy that jerks the heart out of his chest. He's helped to get us this far."

West is trying to score an upset with Easy Grades, who finished second to Came Home in the San Rafael Stakes and Santa Anita Derby. West, 28, is the youngest trainer in this year's field, but is four years older than James Rowe Sr., who in 1881 became the youngest winning trainer.

West said the build-up to the Kentucky Derby has gone smoothly, but he expects to feel different emotions on raceday.

"I suppose I'll be real nervous on Saturday," West said. "If I didn't get excited in a deal like this, I'd quit."