05/06/2002 12:00AM

Fence-leaping Grooms Derby back at races


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Grooms Derby figures to be one of the favorites for Saturday's $35,000 Strawberry Morn Stakes, but her trainer, Michael Turner, is happy merely that she is in one piece after an incident following a six-furlong work April 28.

Grooms Derby finished her work strongly for an excellent clocking of 1:14.40 seconds, but when she was being pulled up she dumped jockey Pedro Alvarado. After eluding track outrider Jodie Rawson and running freely around the track a couple of times, Grooms Derby finally came to a halt inside the winner's enclosure.

She then spooked and jumped over a four-foot-high fence that separates the public and the winner's circle. She landed on the tarmac in front of the grandstand, where she waited for Rawson, who came over the fence to catch her. Amazingly, Grooms Derby wasn't injured and only missed a couple of days of training with a little minor stiffness.

"When she jumped over the fence I thought that it was all over," said Turner. "Nine times out of 10 a horse would break something doing what she did."

After carefully examining Grooms Derby Turner was relieved to find out that she was okay, and put her back in training.

"She seems fine, and we plan to run her Saturday, barring anything else happening," he said.

If Grooms Derby runs, you can count on a swift pace. Other than in her second career start, when she broke poorly, Grooms Derby has taken the lead in the first quarter-mile in all 13 of her races at Hastings Park. She also has been good enough to carry her speed all the way to a win seven times, including in the Grade 3 B.C. Oaks in 2000.

Commodore Craig wins Vancouver

Commodore Craig used his speed to wire a sharp field of 3-year-olds in the City of Vancouver Stakes Sunday. Sent off as the second choice, behind Jack Diamond Futurity winner Long Rifle, Commodore Craig paid $7.80. He was never threatened, cruising to a 2 1/2-length win over longshot Regal Rebel. Chris Loseth was aboard for the victory, and thinks Commodore Craig shouldn't have trouble carrying his speed a distance of ground.

"He was so relaxed going into the first turn that I was completely confident that he was going to win easily," said Loseth. "I don't think he'll have any trouble stretching out if he stays that relaxed."

Commodore Craig is bred to go the B.C. Derby distance of 1 1/8 miles. He's out of B.C. Oaks winner Sophie J and is by the leading sire in British Columbia, Vying Victor, who won the nine-furlong Sir Winston Churchill in 1993.

Commodore Craig's trainer Robbie Anderson, who also trained Sophie J, was pleased with the result, but is less confident then Loseth about him getting the derby distance.

"We'll see," said Anderson. "He's certainly come a long way since last year, but he's a lot more aggressive than his mother was. He's pretty strong, and last year I was worried that if he broke a step slow he would probably run over the horses that were in front of him. He does seem more settled now but he still has a way to go."

Jockey David Wilson said that Long Rifle, who is trained by David Forster, didn't have any excuse for his dull sixth-place finish in the City of Vancouver.

"He never seemed interested," said Wilson.

"He bled a small amount but I don't think that's why he ran so poorly," said assistant trainer Teri Forster. "He just never picked it up at any time."

The Forsters had a solid weekend though, finishing first and third with Secondary School and Classic Action in a $40,000 allowance race for 3-year-old fillies Saturday. And they unveiled another good-looking 3-year-old colt, Blowin in the Wind, who won for fun over straight maidens last Wednesday.