05/24/2001 11:00PM

Grooms Derby primed for her best

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Grooms Derby, winner of the Grade 3 British Columbia Oaks last year, will be a heavy favorite to notch her first victory this year in an allowance race for fillies and mares Saturday at Hastings Park. The 6 1/2-furlong race drew a field of eight and goes as the fifth race.

Grooms Derby comes into Saturday's race off a second to Make Contact in the Strawberry Morn Stakes on May 12. It was her second start of the year and she improved greatly over her previous start, a distant fourth to Make Contact in an allowance race April 21.

Other than when she broke slowly last year in her second start, Grooms Derby has never been headed going into the first turn at Hastings Park. She figures to be hard to catch from the rail.

Pedro Alvarado replaces Sam Krasner on Grooms Derby.

Always a Dixie won her first two starts, both at Golden Gate, and then finished second here to Make Contact on April 21. She came down with a virus soon after that race and skipped the Strawberry Morn Stakes.

"We also missed a chance to run in a conditional race," said her trainer, Barbara Heads. "We would really like to have her win out her conditions before tackling stakes horses."

Although Heads reports that Always a Dixie is training well, she isn't too concerned about the outcome.

"She should run a good race, but our main goal is the bigger races later on," Heads said. "I think she's a pretty nice filly and has the potential to give Make Contact a run for her money. But not just yet."