04/01/2005 12:00AM

Greeley's Galaxy's Illinois road trip

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Greeley's Galaxy never has run in a stakes race, but he certainly will be among the favorites here Saturday in the Illinois Derby. With two straight wins in Southern California, and a brand-name jockey in Kent Desormeaux, Greeley's Galaxy will attract as much attention as any of the other 3-year-olds who may or may not be coming to Chicago for the derby next weekend.

As of Friday, the Illinois Derby field remained in flux, with perhaps seven confirmed starters, none in the upper tier of Kentucky Derby hopefuls.

Little known so far, Greeley's Galaxy could wind up at Churchill Downs on May 7 - but only if he wins the Illinois Derby. The Grade 2, $500,000 race pays $300,000 to the winner, cash that owner B. Wayne Hughes could put toward a massive late Triple Crown nomination fee of $200,000.

"[Hughes] didn't want to nominate him before," trainer Warren Stute said. "If the horse wins, he'd nominate him. [Greeley's Galaxy] has to go to Louisville anyway before he flies home. We could just leave him at Churchill."

Hughes owns another Triple Crown candidate, the Ron Ellis-trained Don't Get Mad, who runs next in the Santa Anita Derby. And that is why Greeley's Galaxy is shipping to Hawthorne on Thursday, a rare out-of-California excursion for a Stute-trained horse.

"Oh God, I can't remember the last time," said Stute, who turned 83 last fall. "Years ago, I guess. The owner has Don't Get Mad; otherwise I'd have run him in the derby out here."

Greeley's Galaxy suffered through a terrible trip when he finished sixth in his career debut Jan. 15. He beat only three rivals in a sprint maiden win a month later, but won impressively when stretched out to two turns in an entry-level allowance on March 10.

"He's a nice colt, and he's been doing fine," said Stute. "He'll blow out a short three-eighths the morning before he leaves."

Stute said his son Glen will travel with Greeley's Galaxy, and the horse will race here in Glen Stute's name.

Pass the Pepper nothing to sneeze at on Sunday

It was no way to treat a neighbor. Pass the Pepper had slugged it out on the front end, contesting a fast pace in an overnight stakes race March 5 at Hawthorne, but she had surged clear in the final 200 yards and seemed bound for victory. That was until Dutchie, Pass the Pepper's stablemate, emerged from the pack and ran her down in the final strides.

Pass the Pepper got an "A" for effort that day. Sunday at Hawthorne, she could get a win in the featured seventh race, a fourth-level sprint allowance with a $50,000 claiming option that lets Pass the Pepper and two others into the race. In all, the race attracted seven horses, including the comebacking Rich City Girl, and Fighting Fever, a sharp third-level allowance winner here March 15.

Pass the Pepper is 6, and has lost a step since her zenith at age 4, but she remains a solid sprinter capable of carving out a fast pace while sustaining her speed six furlongs. The trainer Michelle Boyce has run Pass the Pepper for this claiming price before - no takers - and she clearly fits the class level. With post 2 and noted gate rider E.T. Baird, Pass the Pepper could be out on the lead and long gone Sunday, especially if the track remains as inside-speed friendly as it was Friday.

Fighting Fever wound up on the pace when she won here three weeks ago, but she functions best from a stalking position, and figures to get that trip Sunday.

Rich City Girl, out of action since last November, ran well in her first start of 2004, and has the inherent class to be competitive in this spot.

Ghostly Gate gets jump

Speed and the rail were the prime movers on Friday's card here, which spelled trouble for even-money favorite Julie's Prize in the $42,000 Merry Colleen Stakes, and even the presence of a de facto rabbit from trainer Tony Mitchell's barn couldn't boost Julie's Prize to victory.

Hung wide for the entire second turn, Julie's Prize was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Ghostly Gate, who saved ground and got the jump on the favorite.

Ghostly Gate, from the Hugh Robertson barn, now has posted two consecutive victories, having won an Oaklawn Park allowance race in her previous start. She paid $8.20 to win, running the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.51. Catboat finished a distant third.

The Merry Colleen could function as a prep for the Sixty Sails Handicap here later this month, though Illinois-bred Julie's Prize also has a statebred stakes option.

Injustice, a graded-stakes winner in her last start, remains the top local Sixty Sails hope, and trainer Wayne Catalano planned to breeze the mare on Saturday morning.