03/11/2004 12:00AM

Lack of pace won't bother Skipaslew

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ALBANY, Calif. - Now, it gets serious.

Ten 3-year-olds with varying degrees of Kentucky Derby aspirations meet Saturday in the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. Some of the entrants will need a top performance to earn further Derby consideration.

Perhaps the marquee name in the field is Skipaslew, who has already won the Gold Rush Stakes and Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby. But Skipaslew, who was claimed for $50,000 last July by trainer Doug O'Neill for Merv Griffin, is far from a sure thing and may not even be favored.

Seattle Borders, purchased privately by Edmund Gann, won his first start for new trainer Bobby Frankel in the Grade 3 Baldwin at 6 1/2 furlongs down Santa Anita's hillside turf course. Both his career victories have come on the turf, but the Frankel magic is such that he may end up the favorite.

Capitano, runner-up in both the Best Pal and the Norfolk last year, could end up on the lead in a field that doesn't seem to have much pace.

Totally Platinum and Lipan, both of whom have only maiden wins, are also shipping north.

Locally based runners who could be factors include the talented filly Wildwood Flower; O.K. Mikie, second in the Golden Gate Derby before winning the Golden State Mile; rapidly improving Trevanian; Kilgowan; and Tacky.

But Skipaslew, who has not raced since the Jan. 10 Golden Gate Derby, comes in as the one to beat.

"He's doing dynamite," O'Neill said. "He's breezed four times since the Golden Gate Derby, and he's grown a lot mentally. He's become an easier horse to be around."

O'Neill is not concerned about what appears to be a lack of early speed in the race, given Skipaslew's stalking style.

"That's the beauty of him. He's so versatile," O'Neill said. "He can lay close if there's not much pace and that may be a positive for us as far as avoiding trouble."

O'Neill would like to run Skipaslew next in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 3.

O'Neill considered running Skipaslew in Sunday's Grade 2, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita but ultimately settled on the El Camino Real.

"We talked a little bit about the San Felipe, but he so much enjoys the track up there, we thought prior to going out of state this was the most conservative move," O'Neill said. "The whole thing is trying to make as good an experience for him as possible leading up to Kentucky."