05/10/2002 11:00PM

Flying Dash makes it look easy

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STICKNEY, Ill. - As easy as Victor Espinoza made winning last week's Kentucky Derby look, Saturday's Hawthorne Derby was even easier. As with War Emblem a week ago, Espinoza simply sat aboard Flying Dash for most of the Hawthorne Derby. He guided the colt to the inside turning for home and hardly moved as Flying Dash drew off convincingly to win by three lengths.

Both horse and jockey were ship-ins for the Grade 3, $250,000 Derby. On a turf course rendered soft by a cold, biting rain, Espinoza, who is based in Southern California, was out of his element. But for Flying Dash, it was like coming home.

A German-bred who made his four starts last season in Europe, Flying Dash already had won over soft turf, and was battle-tested over wet courses. Owned by Fusao Sekiguchi, Flying Dash had made one start in this country, winning the Transylvania at Keeneland by more than two lengths last month.

Flying Dash was mentioned briefly as a possible Kentucky Derby horse, but his trainer, Neil Drysdale, scrapped a start in the Derby Trial, which would have been Flying Dash's dirt debut, and decided to keep Flying Dash on turf.

The colt needs more competition than he found Saturday. Espinoza let Flying Dash settle into an easy stride coming out of the gate, as first-time turfer Quest Star made the lead, pursued by Scooter Roach.

Running positions remained basically unchanged down the backstretch, with Flying Dash racing in fifth, stuck in a pocket along the inside. The pace began to quicken turning for home, and when Quest Star came off the rail, Espinoza steered Flying Dash to the inside.

With a couple flicks of the reins, Flying Dash opened up daylight on his rivals, and Espinoza, glancing over his shoulder a couple of times, never asked the colt to run again.

The time for the nine-furlong Derby, 1:58.88, was surprisingly slow, though the course was extremely wet. Hawthorne installed a new timing system for this season, and turf races here no longer are run at "about" distances.

Flying Dash, who is likely to run next in the Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs, paid $3 to win. Longshot Scooter Roach finished 3 3/4 lengths in front of Quest Star for second place.