07/05/2001 11:00PM

Hero's Tribute steps out of shadow


ELMONT, N.Y. - It is one of the oldest stories in racing. Something goes wrong with the favorite, shortly before the big race. The substitute takes his place, wins in a notable upset, and his story is retold with glee every year.

Sun Briar was 2-year-old champion of 1917 and the Kentucky Derby favorite. Exterminator, just a horse, was purchased as a workmate for Sun Briar. When Sun Briar didn't come up to the Derby to suit him, Uncle Henry McDaniel didn't run him. Instead he called on the 30-1 Exterminator, who went resolutely through the mud and carried the day.

Gen. Duke was brilliant in the Spring of 1957, setting a world's record for nine furlongs in winning the Florida Derby. He was established as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby but didn't train well and was scratched by Jimmy Jones, who called on the 8-1 substitute, Iron Liege. In a dramatic finish, Bill Shoemaker rose prematurely on Gallant Man and the Derby was won by Iron Liege.

Monarchos was stylish in winning the Florida Derby, impressive in winning the Kentucky Derby. He wasn't quite as effective in the Preakness or Belmont Stakes but a freshening appeared to be beneficial and hope surged. Then came the shocking announcement: Monarchos fractured a foot and is probably through for the season. His stablemate Hero's Tribute, preparing to run in Sunday's $150,000 Dwyer at a 1 1/16 miles, was thrust the spotlight. Will he be able to fill in for Monarchos during the hectic weeks and months ahead?

"We think a lot of him," trainer John Ward said, "particularly when he has had a chance to rebound between races. In that sense he is probably not as robust at this time as we hope he'll be with maturity. But he is a talented colt, as he indicated in winning the Peter Pan last month. The addition of blinkers helped, too."

Hero's Tribute, by Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, won the Peter Pan by almost four lengths, marking a new level of progress.

His 3-year-old campaign has been compromised to date by setbacks. A quarter crack last winter in Florida cost him time at a crucial point in his development. When he finally did get a chance to make a name for himself in Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes, a thyroid condition sapped his strength. He has been in good health and spirits since the Peter Pan, although Ward has been careful not to put too much pressure on him in his works. After all, Monarchos was coming back.

"Hero's Tribute has been averaging five furlongs in a minute," Ward noted. "These are just maintenance moves, and we hope they will enable him to run back to his form in the Peter Pan. The Dwyer could move him forward toward his next goal, which will probably be the Haskell at Monmouth on Aug. 5. I want all the time I can get. That's why the Haskell won us over the Swaps at Hollywood. It gives us an extra week."

Waldrop eyes Epsom suites

When Stephen Wallace, the general manager of Epsom Downs in England, visited Churchill Downs in May to see the Kentucky Derby, he invited Churchill Downs president, Alex Waldrop, to see the Epsom Derby. Wallace and Epsom chairman Andrew Waites gave Waldrop a tour of the facilities and Waldrop was impressed.

Incidentally, Epsom Downs business is strong these days. The paid crowd at the Derby numbered 130,000 and it is estimated that another 100,000 jammed the huge infield, which is public land. This was the largest crowd to see an Epsom Derby since Derby Day was switched from Wednesday to Saturday several years ago.

One aspect of Epsom's superb Queen's Stand, which caught Waldrop's eye, was the individual corporate suites available for long-term rental. Beautifully furnished, these suites represent the last word in comfort at the races. Waldrop hopes that at some point suites of this kind can be considered for Churchill's capital improvement program.