05/05/2004 11:00PM

Fonner: 'Verzy' heads Nebraska Derby

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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - Thundering Verzy has never been defeated in his four starts in Nebraska. On Saturday he'll get his sternest test to date when he takes on seven others in the one-mile, $25,000 Nebraska Derby, the meet's closing-day feature.

Shipping in to face Thundering Verzy are Okie Style, for trainer Kelly Von Hemel, and Val Rah, from the barn of Roger Engel.

Thundering Verzy rattled off three straight wins last year at Columbus to start his career. After winning his maiden at first asking, he captured the Club House Special and then romped by nearly 16 lengths in the Columbus Futurity against statebreds. On April 17, he returned to Nebraska for an authoritative victory in the colt and gelding division of the Fonner Park Special Stakes. Breaking from post 8, Armando Martinez will once again be aboard Thundering Verzy for trainer Phil Storms.

Val Rah invades from Texas, where he won two of his last three starts, all in allowance races at Sam Houston Park. Although he is making his stakes debut, Val Rah will garner his share of support with Perry Compton in the irons. Val Rah breaks from post 6.

Okie Style comes off a sixth-place finish in the Golden Circle Stakes at Prairie Meadows on opening weekend. A year ago, Okie Style took the Iowa Stallion Futurity, the Prairie Meadows Freshman, and the Oklahoma Classics Juvenile in succession to account for all his career wins. R.D. Williams will ride from post 2.

* Closing out the season will be the $10,000-added Coors Starter Allowance Stakes at 1 1/8 miles. Up Jump the Devil, a romping 10-length winner over $5,000 starter company on April 24, will face the early challenge of fellow front-runner J.R. Honor and the late runs of Old Man's Delite and Family Fewd.