10/02/2002 11:00PM

Dozen clash in Indiana Derby

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ANDERSON, Ind. - Wiseman's Ferry has earned more than $750,000 this year while competing in a string of derbies across the Midwest. On Saturday night he will be tested to his fullest when he heads a field of 12 in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby at 1 1/16 miles.

Interest in the $400,000-added derby, Indiana's richest Thoroughbred race, ran high this year as 14 3-year-olds were entered for the 12 starting spots. Halo's Tiger and Taste of Paradise were excluded from Wednesday's draw based on their 2002 earnings.

Wiseman's Ferry has won the Lone Star and West Viriginia derbies and finished second in the Ohio Derby and fourth in the Pennsylvania Derby. With a career bankroll of $816,867, Wiseman's Ferry would become a millionaire with a victory in the derby. Regular rider Jorge Chavez has the mount. Wiseman's Ferry is trained by Niall O'Callaghan.

Other top contenders are Perfect Drift, Easyfromthegitgo, and Robin Zee.

Perfect Drift makes his first start since a dull effort in the Belmont Stakes. Trained by Murray Johnson, Perfect Drift has been working strongly for this race at the Churchill Downs Training Center, including a 59.20-second move from the gate over a muddy track Sept. 27. Jon Court will ride.

Considered a the top contender leading into the Triple Crown, Perfect Drift posted his biggest victory the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. In the Derby, he was checked in upper stretch and then weakened to finish third to War Emblem and Proud Citizen.

Easyfromthegitgo has carved out a niche in the 3-year-old ranks this year with a consistent series of strong efforts. He finished second by a nose to Repent in the Louisiana Derby, fifth by 3 1/2 lengths to War Emblem in the Preakness, and, most recently, was second by a half-length to The Judge Sez Who in the Oklahoma Derby. His two wins this year have come in the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds and the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. Trainer Steve Asmussen brings in Donnie Meche to ride.

An intriguing upset possibility is Robin Zee, from the barn of Jimmy Zook. Robin Zee posted the top Beyer Speed Figure of the field when he upset Cowboy Stuff in the Prairie Meadows Derby two weeks ago, earning a 109. Perry Compton rides.

The pace of the Indiana Derby may be quick as Pass Rush, Joey Franco, Fighting Indians, M B Sea, and Wiseman's Ferry all run on or near the lead. With Perfect Drift suspect in his first start off a layoff, Easyfromthegitgo could be the upsetter.