05/29/2004 12:00AM

Grand Heritage fits in derby


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The Grade 3, $100,000 Jersey Derby attracted a competitive field of nine to headline the Memorial Day card at Monmouth Park.

is a possible favorite in the race for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Trained by Bill Mott, Grand Heritage has already won three times on the grass, including the Continental Mile last year at Monmouth. He contested the pace in his last race, the Grade 3 American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs, before fading to seventh. Julian Pimentel has the mount.

Commendation is also stakes tested. He has run in six straight stakes and scored a win in the Bourbon County Stakes on the grass last fall at Keeneland. Eibar Coa will ride for trainer Graham Motion.

This could be the breakthrough spot for Lipan.

A son of Mr. Greeley, Lipan has three seconds and a third in four grass starts. He ran a strong second in the Woodlawn Stakes on the Preakness Day card at Pimlico. Ninth in the early stages, Lipan rallied boldly between rivals.

"I always liked the horse," said Gammy Vazquez, the trainer for owner Michael Gill's Monmouth division. "I always thought he would be a nice horse."

Vazquez worked with Lipan early in his 2-year-old year but lost contact when the horse was sent to California. They were reunited when Gill disbanded his California stable.

"I watched him train on the dirt and I think his style is better on the turf," said Vazquez. "That's why we ran him on Preakness Day, and he ran a big race. He was in a little traffic trouble and he was in between horses. He's still learning. He's still maturing. He'll be a nice horse, eventually."

Stewart Elliott will ride Lipan.

Completing the field are the entry of Forest Grove and Icy Atlantic from trainer Todd Pletcher, the promising New Jersey-bred Carrots Only, Shining Hawk, Master William, and Nooligan.

The Jersey Derby has been run at tracks throughout the state. It dates back to 1942 at the old Garden State Park and spent several years at Atlantic City Race Course.

Past winners include Triple Crown champion Citation in 1948 and Spend a Buck, who earned a $2 million bonus for winning the race in 1985.