05/09/2002 12:00AM

Flying Dash looks tough in Derby


CHICAGO - It's too soon to say how high his ceiling is, but you can say this - Flying Dash is on his way to being one of the top 3-year-old turf horses in the country. Hawthorne Race Course scored a coup for its Hawthorne Derby when trainer Neil Drysdale chose Saturday's Grade 3 race for Flying Dash's next start. His six rivals in the nine-furlong grass race were not so fortunate. On paper, none can stop Flying Dash from winning his second stakes race since being imported from Europe.

Flying Dash was bred in Germany and campaigned there at age 2, with one stop in France. He now is owned by Fusao Sekiguchi of Japan. A convincing winner of the $100,000 Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland last month in his U.S. debut, Flying Dash was mentioned as a possible starter in the Derby Trial Stakes, which would have been his first race on dirt, and even as a Kentucky Derby candidate.

Nothing doing. An uninspiring main-track workout at Churchill Downs convinced Drysdale to keep the colt on turf, and Flying Dash did not enter the Derby Trial.

His race at Keeneland was fine, once he got going. But Flying Dash acted up at the gate before the race, a problem Drysdale subsequently addressed.

"He's been schooled at the gate," Drysdale said. "He's gone in extremely well. He's behaving."

Flying Dash raced in front bandages in the Transylvania, but so does the Drysdale-trained Sunday Break, as well as Drysdale's 2000 Kentucky Derby winner, Fusaichi Pegasus. "We do it a lot of times from a protective point of view," Drysdale said. "It's a precautionary thing. It can't hurt, and it might help."

Victor Espinoza, who won the Kentucky Derby a week ago, rides Flying Dash.

Quest Star might also have gone down the Derby trail had he progressed after wining his maiden in a two-turn race early in the Gulfstream meet. But Quest Star subsequently lost three times in allowance races and once in a minor stakes, and thus makes his first start on turf for trainer Elliott Walden and owner Mansell Stables. By Broad Brush and out of a Manila mare, Quest Star could thrive on grass, and a strong forward move in his grass debut might bring him close to Flying Dash.

The Illinois-bred Colorful Tour crushed statebred stakes horses in a dirt route at Sportsman's in late March, and his only try on turf came in a sprint over the tricky course at Kentucky Downs.

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