10/18/2001 12:00AM

Hennig's two main concerns: Rain, pace


An honest pace and no rain. That's all trainer Mark Hennig will ask for when he sends Strategic Partner out against 11 rivals, including Ohio Derby winner Western Pride and local division leader Tv Sports Director, in Saturday's $200,000 Calder Derby for 3-year-old colts and geldings.

Strategic Partner, a son of Kris S, was generally regarded among the top members of his division after he upset Baptize to win the Crown Royal American Turf Stakes on May 4 at Churchill Downs.

But he has failed to win in five subsequent starts, three of which ended in second-place finishes in the Jefferson Cup, National Museum of Racing of Racing Hall of Fame Handicap, and the Grade 2 Jamaica Handicap.

"It's been a bit frustrating, but he runs hard every start, and we've still got our sights set on the Hollywood Derby if he runs well on Saturday," said Hennig, who sent Strategic Partner down to Florida's Payson Park training center shortly after the Jamaica to acclimate to the area.

"The biggest problem is that he's a come-from-behind horse, and they're always prone to running into trouble or are at the mercy of the pace. I just hope the fractions are honest Saturday - and the race stays on the grass."

If the Calder Derby comes off the turf, Western Pride would be the prohibitive favorite after his upset of Breeders' Cup Classic hopeful Macho Uno in the Ohio Derby.

Western Pride also numbered Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher Thunder Blitz among his victims when he won the West Virginia Derby earlier in the season. A son of Way West, he has never run on grass.

Strategic Partner and Western Pride are two of the five invaders in the Calder Derby. The others are Boastful, who carries a three-race winning streak into the Grade 3 event for trainer Bill Mott; Bricks and Ivy; and Monsieur Cat.

The local contingent is led by Tv Sports Director, who has won his last four starts on turf, including the Roman Brother and Needles Stakes. A gelded son of Line in the Sand, he proved his versatility in the Needles when he rallied from off the pace to post an impressive 1 1/4-length victory over the versatile Tour of the Cat.

The sleeper in the race could be Lucky Ride, who was making a menacing run behind Tv Sports Director in the Needles only to flatten out after losing considerable ground going into the stretch.

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