02/20/2002 1:00AM

Desert detour ruled a prep too far


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.- A challenge to the Kentucky Derby?

Not even for $2 million.

After Repent was an impressive winner Sunday of the Risen Star Stakes for 3-year-olds at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, trainer Ken McPeek briefly considered a trip to Dubai for the March 23 running of the United Arab Emirates Derby. Repent is a genuine stayer and his off-the-pace style would be ideal for the Dubai track's long stretch.

"I discussed it with people whose opinion I respect and came to the conclusion not to travel," McPeek said. "I think he'd have had a good chance to win it, but if you have an eye on the Kentucky Derby, as we do, then going on such a long trip at that time of the year would be a mistake. It could knock him out and it might take months to get him back in form."

Repent is a son of Preakness winner Louis Quatorze who won three of five starts last season including the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. With his strong acceleration and his proven ability to handle the Churchill Downs strip, he is regarded as a leading Derby prospect.

"I'm not certain just what he'll do next," McPeek advised. "It could be the Louisiana Derby on March 10 or the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on March 23. He appears to have come out of the Risen Star in good order, but I doubt we'll consider the Florida Derby. I don't think the Gulfstream track fits his style. How many winners there make up a lot of ground through the stretch? Besides, we have a fine prospect for the Florida Derby in Harlan's Holiday."

Repent, who is owned by Feye Bach of Cincinnati, came out of the Fasig-Tipton July sale for $230,000. Harlan's Holiday, a $97,000 purchase at the same sale, is owned by Jack and Laurie Wolf of Atlanta. The Harlan colt finished second in both the Holy Bull Stakes and the Fountain of Youth to Booklet, and it looks like they will have a third confrontation in the Florida Derby on March 16.

"I think Harlan's Holiday has a great chance," McPeek said. "We've got to find a way to keep Booklet from having an easy lead again, but I'm not going to change Harlan's Holiday's style. His last two races were his best. The Florida Derby will be a bit farther than the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, and that could be the difference."

Moon Queen on the rise

Joe Allen will take a chance with a horse. Some of his best have been mature prospects he has purchased, and he appears to have another good one in the Irish-bred and French-raced Moon Queen, whom he bought privately in France last summer. Moon Queen improved since the purchase, won a Group 2 stakes at Longchamp last fall, and then was sent to the United States. She disappointed in an appearance at Aqueduct in November but was freshened by trainer Chris Clement, who saddled her for the first time at Gulfstream Park Sunday in the $100,000 The Very One Handicap at a mile and three furlongs on the turf. Leading all the way under Jerry Bailey, she won easily by 6 1/2 lengths.

"She was impressive," Clement said. "There is a lot of pedigree to her, for she is by Sadler's Wells, a brilliant sire, out of Infamy, who won the Rothmans International in Canada. We'll point Moon Queen next for the $200,000 Orchid Handicap at a mile and a half on the turf on March 24. She is a stayer and should like the distance."