09/12/2003 11:00PM

Elusive Indian in off Spa win


Monday's $50,000 Derby Trial at Fairplex has attracted a field of 10 3-year-olds, nine of whom made their last start at Del Mar. The stranger to the group is Elusive Indian, a 7 1/2-length maiden winner in his last start at Saratoga in New York.

Elusive Indian, a son of Elusive Quality, did debut at Hollywood Park and finished second in a turf race before his win at Saratoga. Following his Aug. 10 win at Saratoga, he worked a half-mile there on Sept. 6 but was shipped to California the following day. Trainer Wesley Ward believes Elusive Indian will be ready to give his best in the Derby Trial.

"Come race day, he will have been here eight days and will have had ample time to have adjusted," Ward said Saturday by phone from Fairplex.

Ward, who had some horses stabled at Saratoga this summer, now has his 30-horse stable at Santa Anita.

Elusive Indian will be trying both winners and a route of ground for the first time Monday, having never raced beyond six furlongs. He has shown speed in his races, but also has a pedigree that suggests he will go on in distance.

"He's trained like he'll route, so we'll just have to see if he'll go 1 1/16 miles," Ward said. "My experience is that at small tracks, like this five-eighths-mile track, it's easier to stretch a horse out in distance."

Ward said his original plan was to race Elusive Indian in an allowance race at Belmont, but upon deciding to bring his entire stable back west, he figured the Derby Trial was "the most logical spot" to run Elusive Indian.

Ward thinks the gelding has progressed with racing experience and can continue to do so in his third lifetime start.

"Gary Stevens rode him in his first start, and told me after the race that he thought he should have won the race," Ward said. "He got left at the gate and pinched at the three-eighths pole, and by then the horse in front was 10 lengths in front with no catching him. Our horse finished up good, but Gary did the right thing not abusing him and picking up second.

"In his second start, he just galloped and ran a fantastic race. He's cut out to be a good horse and we just hope this spot is right."

Among Elusive Indian's rivals are seven horses who last raced over Del Mar's turf course, including Custom Framing, winner of two straight races at seven furlongs on dirt before his seventh-place finish last time.