01/10/2004 12:00AM

Golden Gate: Skipaslew takes derby

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ALBANY, Calif. - Even-money favorite Skipaslew ($4) scored his second straight stakes victory and won his first graded race, capturing the $100,000 Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

"We're on the [Kentucky Derby] path," said Skipaslew's owner, Merv Griffin.

Skipaslew won by two lengths over O.K. Mikie, who edged Bensquito by a head for second. The winning time for the 1 1/16-mile race over a wet-fast track was 1:41.84.

Skipaslew, claimed for $50,000 at Hollywood Park in his second start last July, has three stakes victories in his past four starts. He won the Gateway to Glory at Fairplex and the Gold Rush here. He was third in the Bay Meadows Juvenile between the Gateway to Glory and Gold Rush.

Dixieland Heater set the early pace in the Golden Gate Derby with Gwaihir sitting just inside him. Skipaslew sat comfortably behind the two leaders, well in front of O.K. Mikie and Bensquito.

Skipaslew, under Eric Saint-Martin, moved three wide nearing the quarter pole to engage the two leaders and took the lead in the stretch despite being hit in the head by an errant whip.

"He was more green last time," Saint-Martin said. "He relaxed well. When we were going down the stretch, I pulled a set of goggles off, and he took the bit, but I said, 'Not yet,' and he settled down again."

Winning trainer Doug O'Neill said Skipaslew has been "a bit of a head case."

"But he's maturing," O'Neill said. "I think it's all just Mother Nature, but it's coming together."

O'Neill said that Skipaslew would be nominated to the Triple Crown and would probably run next in the El Camino Real Derby here March 13.

Skipaslew has now earned $166,100 with four victories in eight starts.