04/09/2005 12:00AM

Greeley's Galaxy all alone at the wire in Illinois Derby

Greeley's Galaxy draws off by 9 1/2 lengths to win the Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby in his stakes debut. He was ridden by Kent Desormeaux.

STICKNEY, Ill. - A stakes race can look one way before it is run and come out with a completely different appearance. The Grade 2 , before the horses lined up, bore a great resemblance to a second-level allowance race. When the dust settled, an actual Kentucky Derby contender had been born.

Greeley's Galaxy ($5.60) had never run in a stakes race before shipping to Hawthorne from California, but he blew the doors off seven rivals with a powerhouse stretch run, drawing off to win by 9 1/2 lengths and running 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.62.

It will cost owner B. Wayne Hughes $200,000 to make Greeley's Galaxy a late nomination to the Triple Crown, but that is apparently the plan, especially after the Hughes-owned Don't Get Mad finished unplaced in the Santa Anita Derby.

"That's our direction right now," said Glen Stute, who traveled with Greeley's Galaxy and saddled him for his father, the longtime trainer Warren Stute.

Greeley's Galaxy now has won three straight - improving with each victory - since a dismal trip doomed his chances in his career debut last Jan. 15 at Santa Anita. Greeley's Galaxy had won an entry-level allowance by four in his most recent start, his first try at two turns, but that was nothing compared to the thunderbolt he threw Saturday.

"This was a big step up for him," Stute said. "I think we got a runner here."

Greeley's Galaxy broke from post 1, but made his first move going three wide down the backstretch, as Daddy Joe ran an opening quarter-mile in a snappy 22.74 seconds and a half in 46.50, pursued by Kansas City Boy.

"I had to drag him back in the first turn," said jockey Kent Desormeaux, who followed Greeley's Galaxy to Hawthorne from Santa Anita. "He wanted to join the fight, but he needed to wait."

And that is one thing Desormeaux says he likes about this colt: his responsiveness to his rider's commands. Even when Greeley's Galaxy had the leaders measured at the quarter pole, Desormeaux asked him to wait.

"I finally felt him take a deep gasp, and I knew it was time to go," Desormeaux said. "Man, did he go."

Leaving the pursuing Monarch Lane in his wake, Greeley's Galaxy widened his lead with every stride from the eighth pole to the finish. Monarch Lane staved off Magna Graduate for second, with Rikman fourth, but the winner was in a different class.

"I can't imagine the horse could do it much better than that," said Desormeaux.

It was good enough for a trip to Churchill Downs.

Meafara: Portsea proves best

When the probable favorite Amazing Buy was scratched from the $144,000 Meafara Breeders' Cup Stakes to run in the Ashland Stakes, it opened the door for Portsea and Megascape, the two other logical horses here at Hawthorne. Portsea proved the better, stalking the pace from an outside post before engaging Megascape in the stretch and pushing past for a 2 1/2-length victory.

Trained by Todd Pletcher for Vinery Stables and ridden Saturday by Chris DeCarlo, Portsea scored the third victory of her career, bouncing back from a poor showing two months ago in the Old Hat Stakes. Portsea paid $7.80 to win and was timed in 1:10.92 for six furlongs over fast going. Angel Trumpet finished third in a strung-out field.

Portsea had done her best running on the lead, but DeCarlo let her settle back in fourth, then third, as Megascape dueled with Angel Trumpet for the lead. When Portsea came up to Megascape before the eighth pole, Portsea was clearly going the better of the two.

An objection by Larry Sterling, Megascape's jockey, was disallowed.

Lost Code: 'Smoke' gets clear

Smoke Smoke Smoke was trapped on the rail inside heavily favored Around the Cape for five furlongs of the Lost Code Breeders' Cup Stakes, but fought to a clear lead at the eighth pole and held off Santana Strings's stretch rally to win by three-quarters of a length.

Trained by Hugh Robertson for owner Jer Mar Stables LLC, Smoke Smoke Smoke earned $86,640 of the $143,650 purse, more than doubling his career earnings.

And he worked for every penny. Around the Cape broke on top and led through an opening quarter in 22.35 seconds, with Smoke Smoke Smoke and jockey Seth Martinez holding their position on the rail through a half-mile in 45.60 seconds. Often, it is the outside pace-presser that runs on in such a situation, but Around the Cape was the first to cave, as Smoke Smoke Smoke ran on gamely, getting his six furlongs in 1:09.45 and paying $14.20 to win. Santana Strings finished more than three lengths clear of Around the Cape.