09/19/2007 11:00PM

Even the favorite offers value in Pomona Derby

EmailPOMONA, Calif. - Bettors clever or lucky enough to back the winner of the $100,000 Pomona Derby on Saturday at Fairplex Park will be generously rewarded, even if the favorite wins.

Twelve 3-year-olds - biggest field of the Los Angeles County Fair meet - are scheduled to run the 1 1/8 miles in the most appealing wagering contest of the 2007 season. No shame in backing the favorite, the Irish-bred import Daytona, who might start as high as 7-2. He should not be confused with another horse in the race, a Kentucky-bred also named Daytona.

Dan Hendricks trains the Irish-bred Daytona, who will be racing for the first time on conventional dirt. "He handled Polytrack in Europe, Polytrack here, turf here, and dirt on the [Santa Anita] training track," Hendricks said. "I don't think he handles any certain track better than the other."

Hendricks, who has won eight stakes on the five-eighths Fairplex track, said Daytona has two key Fairplex factors in his favor.

"You try to find the ones that fit company-wise, and that handle the turns," he said. "Get those two things and it usually works out."

In his last start, in the $111,000 El Cajon Stakes on Polytrack at Del Mar, Daytona broke slowly, made an extended run, and finished third. Before that, he finished third in a race in which his saddle slipped. Three starts back he won a turf allowance by more than four lengths.

The Del Mar campaign stamps Irish-bred Daytona as the horse to beat Saturday under jockey Aaron Gryder. Hendricks worked Daytona twice recently on the tight turns of the Santa Anita training track.

His main rivals include stakes-placed Frank the Barber, who finished in front of Daytona one back; My Man Murf, wide-trip winner of the Derby Trial 15 days ago; and Big Bad Leroybrown, who won a sprint stakes before he was compromised by a wide trip at Del Mar.

The Derby Trial was repositioned this year from opening Monday to opening Friday, giving My Man Murf three extra days between starts. Still, it's a 15-day turnaround.

"It's always a concern when you come back quick," said My Man Murf's trainer, Rafael Becerra.

My Man Murf will have a new rider in Isaias Enriquez. The colt's regular riders, David Flores and Jose Valdivia, are out of town Saturday. My Man Murf has won 3 of 8.

Gary Stute trains El Cajon runner-up Frank the Barber and Roman Commander, whose two starts at Fairplex produced a win and a second.

The Pomona Derby is race 12 on a 13-race card.