05/05/2007 12:00AM

For first time, Derby is Miller time


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It has become no big deal in recent years for trainers with large stables to have multiple starters in the Kentucky Derby. The names Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Nick Zito, Bob Baffert, and D. Wayne Lukas all come to mind as trainers who may have more than one chance in any given Derby.

But when Darrin Miller, who has never before had a Derby starter, runs two horses in his Derby debut, well, that's a little different. Miller was scheduled to send out the Silverton Hill Farm duo of Sedgefield and Dominican in the 133rd Derby late Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs.

The days leading up to the Derby, Miller said early Saturday, have been everything they're supposed to be.

"I'm happy to be here," he said, "and I truly feel like my horses are as good as they can be right now."

Miller, 36, who has trained a small to midsized stable in Kentucky in recent years, said he spent an uneventful morning at the barn Saturday, when training hours were limited to 6 to 8 a.m. He said he was aboard Sedgefield "for a little stretching, to take the edge off him."

"Everything went great," Miller said. "It's been unusually calm - I don't know why, but I'm sure as we get closer, things will start changing a little."

Miller said he has never taken the famed "Derby walk" from backstretch to paddock before the race. While both his horses were to walk over together, he said he was more likely to keep his focus on Dominican, the Blue Grass Stakes winner, "because he can be a little insecure about things, although he's really not that bad."

"Hopefully," he said, "things will go off without a hitch and both horses will get to run their races."

Pletcher was scheduled to run five horses and Asmussen had two. Meanwhile, this was the first Derby since 1980 in which none of the famed Derby trio of Zito, Baffert, or Lukas had a starter. Between them, they have trained nine Derby winners.

Running to raise money for education

Five horses in Saturday's Kentucky Derby were running to win the roses and also help some deserving youngster get a college degree.

A portion of any earnings from Street Sense, Cowtown Cat, Any Given Saturday, Sam P., and Tiago will be donated to the Race for Education Racehorse Nomination Program. The Race for Education, a nonprofit organization, was established to help improve the quality of life for farm and track workers' families through education and attract younger and better-educated individuals to careers in the Thoroughbred industry. So far the group has raised $1.5 million since its inception in 2002.

Street Sense, the early Derby favorite, is owned by James Tafel and trained by Carl Nafzger, who is a Race for Education board member. Sam P.'s owners, Jack and Laurie Wolf, are also board members. Bill Casner, a part owner of WinStar Farm, is a founding board member of the Race for Education. WinStar owns a percentage of both Cowtown Cat and Any Given Saturday.

"One little step up can mean a great deal to a lot of people," said Nafzger. "The Race for Education is a positive force in the industry and it's growing. I challenge all racehorse owners to be a part of it."

In addition to the Derby horses making donations to the fund, Octave also pitched in with her second-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks. Like Sam P., Octave is owned by the Wolfs, who also presented the Ashado Scholarship, which goes to a female student with an equine major, following Friday's first race.

Oaks wagering sets records

Several records were set on the 11-race Friday card at Churchill, which was highlighted by the 133rd running of the Kentucky Oaks. All-sources handle on the entire card was $33,570,510, narrowly surpassing the Oaks Day record set last year, when $33,076,351 was bet. Other records included wagering on the Oaks itself: $10.1 million bet from all sources, and $2.9 million ontrack.

Ontrack attendance, surely limited by rainy weather, was 100,075, eighth-highest in Oaks history.

Meanwhile, Todd Pletcher said all three of his Oaks starters, including the one-two finishers, Rags to Riches and Octave, came out of the race in good shape and were scheduled to be shipped shortly to his main base at Belmont Park in New York.

Rain-soaked surface didn't suit everyone

Muddy track conditions at Churchill Downs on Friday left some horsemen feeling their horses did not run to their capability over the wet surface.

The connections of Tough Tiz's Sis, Autobahn Girl, and Cash Included - who ran seventh, eighth, and 11th in the Kentucky Oaks - said their fillies struggled over the surface, an excuse echoed by other trainers and jockeys in earlier races on the card.

John Velazquez, who rode beaten favorites Half Ours and Indian Vale in the Alysheba Stakes and Louisville Breeders' Cup, said those horses were not at their best over the wet track.

Indian Vale, who ran fourth in the Louisville BC, "was slipping and sliding all over the place, and we just fell out of it," he said.

Perfect Drift also faltered in the mud in the Alysheba Stakes, running fourth, beaten 13 3/4 lengths. It marked just the second time in his last 34 starts that he had lost a race by 10 or more lengths. The other time was in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill, when he ran eighth, beaten 15 3/4 lengths, when racing over a fast track.

"He bobbled all the way around there, falling down the whole time," jockey Garrett Gomez said of Perfect Drift's race Friday. "He was on ice skates."

More than 2.3 inches of rain was recorded in Louisville on Friday, which followed 0.9 of an inch of precipitation Thursday.

- additional reporting by Byron King and Mike Welsch