05/01/2002 11:00PM

Late notice on surprise entry irks Irwin

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The connections of Windward Passage were more upset with Churchill Downs officials than they were with trainer Bob Baffert, whose 11th-hour entry of Danthebluegrassman prevented Windward Passage from getting into the Kentucky Derby field.

Barry Irwin, the president of the Team Valor syndicate that owns Windward Passage, said Churchill officials should have alerted him before 4:45 - 15 minutes before the draw for post positions - that his horse would not get in.

"I don't have any ill feelings toward Baffert; what he did was in his rights," Irwin said Thursday. "I think it was well thought out, and what he did was based on horsemanship and I got no problem with it. It just shows the guy's got a flair for the dramatic, and that's Baffert.

"On the other hand, I think the policy that the stewards have - [chief state steward] Bernie Hettel specifically and how he interprets the rules - puts an owner at a very big disadvantage going into the draw. We could have stood there very embarrassed. It would have been upsetting to learn what we learned on television."

Irwin said he was first informed that Windward Passage was out when a jockey agent called him at 4:15 p.m. Irwin said he did not hear from any Churchill officials until 4:45. Irwin stood outside the Kentucky Derby Museum and informed his partners that their horse did not get in the race.

Irwin denied that there was bad blood between him and Baffert, and said that he continues to do business with Baffert.

No Frankie no big deal

Frankie Dettori was aboard Essence of Dubai for both his victories this year in Dubai and will be in town Friday to ride Godolphin Stable's Imperial Gesture in the Oaks. But instead of staying one more day to ride Essence of Dubai for Godolphin in the Derby, Dettori will return to Newmarket to ride Godolphin's Naheef in the 2000 Guineas.

David Flores will ride Essence of Dubai in the Derby, and Dettori's defection is viewed by some as a lack of confidence in the colt.

"I really wouldn't make anything of it," said assistant trainer Tom Albertrani. "The Guineas is an important race and Frankie knows the colt [Naheef] and the track. In addition, we thought it was much easier to find a capable substitute for Frankie here than it would have been to find one over there."

Albertrani also said that Sheikh Mohammed will not attend the Derby but will instead be represented by his oldest son, Sheikh Rashid.

"Sheikh Mohammed said he wished he could come, he'd love to be here for the Derby, but that he's just too busy with his affairs in the Middle East," Albertrani said.

Tall and short of it

Even if Easy Grades does not win Saturday's Kentucky Derby, his trainer, Ted H. West, is certain that the California colt will make race history - for bringing together a jockey and trainer with the largest height difference.

West, who played high school basketball, stands six-foot-six, while jockey Jorge Chavez is only four-10 a difference of 20 inches.

The Kentucky Derby will be the first time that Chavez, who is based in New York, has ridden for West, who trains in California.

"I'd never met Jorge until the morning he worked the horse," said West, 28. "I had to reach way down to give him a leg up."

Chavez and Easy Grades became a team in mid-April after Gary Stevens, who rode Easy Grades in the Santa Anita Derby on April 6, opted to stay with Sunday Break, the third-place finisher in the Wood Memorial April 13.

Easy Grades is West's first Kentucky Derby starter. Chavez won the race last year aboard Monarchos, his fourth Kentucky Derby mount.

Easy Grades has yet to win a stakes, having finished second to Came Home in the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes on March 2 and the Santa Anita Derby on April 6. He worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 here on Monday, although West timed him over six furlongs in 1:13.60.

Drysdale runners New York-bound

Trainer Neil Drysdale will send six horses to New York for the upcoming Belmont Park meet, led by Sunday Break and Bella Bellucci.

Sunday Break was excluded from the Kentucky Derby field because he lacked enough graded-stakes earnings to get into the field of 20. Bella Bellucci was scratched out of Friday's Kentucky Oaks when her blood count came up bad.

Drysdale said he would point Sunday Break to the Preakness, but Drysdale would not ship Sunday Break to Baltimore until he's assured the horse gets into the field.

"I'm not going to get into the same trap, going somewhere and not drawing in," Drysdale said.

Despite scratching out of the Oaks, Bella Bellucci has not missed a day of training and will be pointed to New York's filly Triple Crown at Belmont. The series begins with the Grade 1 Acorn on June 7 and includes the Mother Goose (June 29) and the Coaching Club American Oaks (July 20).

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen and Mike Welsch