04/01/2004 12:00AM

Illinois Derby is just about anybody's race


CHICAGO - With each passing week, the Kentucky Derby picture becomes more scrambled. That would make the a perfect race for the season.

The uncertainty that governs the 3-year-old division as a whole descends Saturday upon Hawthorne Race Course, site of the Grade 2, $500,000 race that highlights the National Jockey Club's spring meeting. Thursday morning, 11 horses were entered in the derby, which is contested at 1 1/8 miles.

The betting public might make Pollard's Vision a tepid favorite, but a standout or anything approaching it he is not. Pollard's Vision, a one-eyed colt, does possess the best last race, a good third to valid Kentucky Derby prospects Wimbledon and Borrego in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.

"He's trained very well since then," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "He's done everything you'd want him to do."

Monday, Pollard's Vision flew from the Palm Meadows training center in Florida to Keeneland. He was scheduled to van to Chicago on Friday morning. But he cannot run from his pedigree. Rare is the young horse by the sprint sire Carson City who can excel at 1 1/8 miles. With an allowance win at Gulfstream and his performance in the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana Derby, Pollard's Vision already has broken the mold. That does not mean he will improve with added distance, however.

Enter Suave, slow to come around, but vastly improved in recent months and a recent winner at nine furlongs. By A.P. Indy, a true route sire, Suave needed many tries to win his maiden, and several more to clear the entry-level allowance condition, but he might make a significant impact Saturday in his stakes debut.

His trainer, Paul McGee, believes he will, and said Suave has continued to thrive since shipping from Florida to Kentucky. A recent six-furlong workout was slow, but McGee said he instructed jockey Rafael Bejarano to take things easy in the breeze. "I might have scared him, telling him not to work fast," McGee said,

Suave and Pollard's Vision possess a similar running style: Neither is speed crazy, but both like to lay close. So too does the unbeaten New Yorker Song of the Sword, who has won all three of his starts, two of them routes, and beat the Lane's End Spiral winner, Sinister G, in his most recent race.

"He's gotten so much bigger the last few months," said Jennifer Pedersen, who trains Song of the Sword, an Unbridled's Song colt, for Ernie Paragallo. "He's done everything you'd want in a colt like this. Ernie always said this was going to be the best one we've ever had."

And there are plenty more. Pure American blew away an Oaklawn allowance field in his last start, and has been working lights-out over the Hawthorne strip. Kilgowan, one of the closers, won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in his last start. If he looks competitive, so does Farnum Alley, fifth by four lengths in the Florida Derby the last time he ran.

"This looks like a good spot to earn some graded money," said his trainer, Tony Reinstedler. "We want to keep him eligible for the Kentucky Derby. It's that kind of year, where you really don't know what's going to happen."

Wildcat Shoes big speed threat

Saturday's undercard stakes, the $100,000 Lost Code Breeders' Cup for 3-year-olds at six furlongs, could wind up being much simpler than the Illinois Derby. If Wildcat Shoes returns to his best form, he should lead all the way.

Wildcat Shoes was brilliant winning the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds, and at one mile, his last race, the Southwest Stakes, was too far.

"We worked him the other morning, and he went [six furlongs] in 1:11 and change," said trainer Jinks Fires. "He does things pretty easy. He's a real talented horse."

The others in the Lost Code are Danieltown, Marley's Revenge, Wild Eventure, Call Me Shane, and Harbor Gate.