04/06/2005 11:00PM

Illinois Derby a B-list affair

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Kansas City Boy is one of only two in Saturday's Illinois Derby with graded stakes experience.

CHICAGO - It is a year in which the entire 3-year-old crop was diminished by the strange mare reproductive loss syndrome during the 2001 Kentucky breeding season. It is a weekend with two Grade A Kentucky Derby prep races, the Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby.

It is, in other words, the wrong time for the Illinois Derby to attract a star-studded field.

Instead, the Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby will unfold as a proving ground. Only two of the nine horses entered in the 1 1/8-mile race have graded stakes experience. Four others have never run in a stakes.

So pick a horse - any horse.

Pick one to bet on his own, or pick one to put into the $1 NTRA Spring Pick 3, which starts with the Carter Handicap and the Wood, and lands on the Illinois Derby - a wide-open betting affair. The race goes off at 4:17 local time and is part of a live NBC broadcast.

The top-three betting choices figure to be Monarch Lane, Greeley's Galaxy, and Kansas City Boy. Magna Graduate, Rikman, and Unbridled Energy will take some betting action, while Daddy Joe, Medigating and Win Me Over figure to take less.

, in from Churchill Downs for trainer Ken McPeek, would look good in this spot had he not thrown in such a clunker in the March 12 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. Second in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, Kansas City Boy was in contention at the half-mile pole at Fair Grounds, but retreated steadily and finished seventh.

"I would have liked to see him closer to the pace that day," said trainer Ken McPeek. "He's a better horse than he showed there."

Kansas City Boy breaks on the far outside. On the rail is the California invader , who made the Daily Racing Form Derby Watch this week and should climb quickly with a victory Saturday. A later-developing colt, Greeley's Galaxy had a terrible trip in his career debut Jan. 15 at Santa Anita, but bounced back with a comfortable maiden win a month later. In his last out a month ago, he successfully stretched out to two turns with a four-length allowance score.

"We don't really know how good he is, but I think he's a nice colt," said trainer Warren Stute. The colt runs Saturday in the name of Stute's son, Glen, and will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux.

"Kent's very high on him, which kind of helps," Stute said.

has only two one-turn races and a maiden win on his resume, but ran into Sun King, among the 3-year-old elite, and Survivalist, a prime contender in the Wood, when he finished third in an entry-level allowance race at Gulfstream.

"We're stepping up a bit, but he's shown some ability in both of his starts," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "He's a colt that's trained well, and he acts like a horse that wants two turns and a route of ground."

Magna Graduate wheels back two weeks after finishing fourth over a tricky track surface in the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway Park. Unbridled Energy and Rikman both exit wins over entry-level allowance horses.

Rikman, the only horse with a win at 1 1/8 miles, started his career in maiden claimers, and like the rest of the horses here, his Triple Crown hopes hinge on the strength of his performance Saturday.

Asked if Rikman could go on to Churchill Downs, trainer Bill Mott said: "If he'd run away with the race. They can earn themselves a start in any kind of spot if they run well enough."