03/21/2002 1:00AM

Hometown heroes legitimate threats


FLORENCE, Ky. - In any given year, a 3-year-old based the entire winter at Turfway Park has been a virtual throwout when the big boys come to town for the track's signature race.

But when the $500,000 Lane's End Spiral Stakes is run Saturday, the lineup not only will include one locally-based horse that rates as a serious contender, but two. Request for Parole and Perfect Drift are the so-called Turfway twins who will attempt to earn a spot in the May 4 Kentucky Derby by facing a solid field that includes capable invaders such as Saratoga Blues, Straight Gin, and Azillion.

"We want him to give us a legitimate reason to go to the Derby," said Steve Margolis, trainer of Request for Parole.

More often than not, the winner of the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 Spiral is deserving of a Derby berth, and that would seem the case Saturday - although the Derby is not what everyone involved is necessarily seeking.

While a huge effort by Request for Parole, Perfect Drift, or Straight Gin likely would be sufficient to get them to Louisville, the connections of Saratoga Blues and Azillion said they are looking farther down the road. Tony Dutrow, who will send out the unbeaten Saratoga Blues in search of his fourth victory, said the May 18 Preakness is a more plausible long-range goal, while Bob Hess Jr., trainer of Azillion, called his colt "probably more a Belmont horse."

One of the fringe contenders in the Spiral is My Man Ryan, whose owners are a 51-member syndicate managed by West Point Thoroughbreds. Trainer Rick Violette said he is hopeful an honest pace will favor My Man Ryan, a come-from-behind type who captured a Feb. 15 allowance at Aqueduct in his last start.

The longest shots in the field will be Gold Dollar and Benny the Hawk.

The Spiral will be televised on a delayed basis on ESPN2. The one-hour telecast starts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern and will also include footage of the UAE Derby from Dubai.

The weather has been something of a concern this week but does not appear likely to be a major factor Saturday. Strong winds dried out the track Thursday, and while unseasonable cold was expected here Friday, the forecast for Saturday calls for sunny skies and a high of 49.

First post for a 12-race Saturday card, which includes four other stakes, is noon. Gates open at 9:30 a.m., with simulcasts from Dubai beginning at 10.

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