04/18/2006 11:00PM

Gorella's season debut a beauty

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BC Mile third finisher Gorella wins her 2006 debut Wednesday with a rail-skimming ride by Julien Leparoux.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The French filly Gorella made quite an impression on North American racing fans last fall when her torrid late run narrowly fell short of catching Artie Schiller and Leroidesanimaux in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

One race deep into her 4-year-old campaign, trainer Patrick Biancone is not wasting much time in having Gorella challenge males again. After winning her first start since the BC Mile, a Wednesday turf allowance at Keeneland, Gorella will race next in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the May 6 Kentucky Derby undercard, said Biancone.

"Why not?" said Biancone. "She is very good right now."

Gorella, owned by Martin Schwartz and ridden by Julien Leparoux, tracked the pace against six other fillies and mares before rallying through a narrow rail opening and winning by a relatively comfortable 1 1/4 lengths over Sabellina. Gorella, who ran third, beaten less than a length in the BC Mile, paid $3 as a heavy favorite after finishing 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.15 over turf rated firm.

Biancone seemed particularly happy about the manner in which his protege and fellow Frenchman, Leparoux, rode Gorella, who was in tight quarters while saving ground most of the way.

"He just sits there," said Biancone, smiling while giving an impromptu demonstration of reining in a horse.

The Gorella comeback shared the spotlight with the Doubledogdare Stakes on Wednesday, when 10,566 turned out in rainy-turned-beautiful weather. Pool Land, ridden by John Velazquez, led throughout in a 12-length romp in the Doubledogdare.

Pool Land, who had won the first three starts of her career before finishing sixth in her latest race, the March 18 Shirley Jones Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream Park, was never headed after Velazquez made sure they had the early lead in the 1 1/16-mile dirt race. Pool Land broke from the rail in a field of five fillies and mares.

"We weren't going to take back from the rail, that's for sure," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Pool Land for the Melnyk Racing Stables.

Pool Land, a 4-year-old Silver Deputy filly, finished in 1:44.08 over a sealed track rated good. She returned $6 as second choice.

Pletcher, who after Wednesday's racing trailed Nick Zito by a 9-8 margin atop the Keeneland trainer standings, said Pool Land might make her next start at Pimlico on May 19, the day before the Preakness, in the $125,000 Allaire duPont BC Distaff.

Private Gift finished second, another 6 1/4 lengths before Miss Matched, while In the Gold, the 9-10 favorite for Zito, labored throughout and finished fourth.

Pool Land's task was made somewhat easier when one of the favorites, Lady Pegasus, was an early scratch.

Like Now's people thinking Derby

Even with a slew of front-running horses likely to run in the 132nd Kentucky Derby, the connections of the speedy Like Now say they would seriously consider the Derby if their gelding were to win the $325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland.

"If he were to win the race like Sinister Minister [won the Blue Grass], the heck with being smart and thinking it's too much pace," said Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Like Now for John J. Dillon. "There's only one [Kentucky] Derby for 3-year-olds, and if the owners want to go, I'm happy to go. If he were to win by five or more, it's hard to tell the owners they can't run in the Derby."

Fernando Jara will be making a rare trip outside of New York to ride Like Now in the 1 1/16-mile Lexington, for which about 10 horses are expected. Like Now, by Jules, won the March 18 Gotham Stakes at 36-1 in his last start and was scheduled to run back in the April 8 Wood Memorial but was sidelined by a fever. Like Now arrived early Wednesday at Keeneland from New York.

Showing Up, yet another speed type, is the probable favorite for the Lexington.

Cauthen's hands immortalized

Thursday morning, Hall of Fame jockey Steve Cauthen was scheduled to become the latest jockey to leave his handprints in a Derby exhibit at a downtown Louisville hotel. Cauthen, who rode Affirmed to win the 1978 Derby, joins 16 other Derby-winning jockeys whose handprints are on permanent display at the "Gallop to Glory" exhibit at the Galt House.

The Galt House has scheduled a special ceremony for May 3 to honor the oldest Derby-winning jockey, Ira Hanford (Bold Venture, 1936), and Johnny Sellers, who won on Carry Back in 1961.