04/02/2007 11:00PM

'Lazy' colt has his team psyched


ARCADIA, Calif. - The Team Valor partnership headed by former turf writer Barry Irwin and HRTV handicapping guru Jeff Siegel will put its perfect Santa Anita Derby record on the line this Saturday with the Todd Pletcher-trained colt King of the Roxy, winner of the Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream in his most recent start.

Okay, so a perfect record of 1 for 1 is not exactly in the spirit of Personal Ensign (13 for 13) or the 1972 Miami Dolphins (17-0). But that one Santa Anita Derby was choice, coming in the 2000 running when Team Valor was represented by The Deputy.

Trained by Jenine Sahadi, The Deputy defeated a field that included the 2-year-old male champion of 1999 (Anees), the filly who would become champion of her division in 2000 (Surfside), and colts who went on to win the Breeders' Cup Mile (War Chant) and the Dubai World Cup (Captain Steve). As heats go, that one was truly key.

If the 2007 version of the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby is to be held in the same regard, the prospective participants need to get rolling. None of the 10 likely starters has won a race of significance.

That is why King of the Roxy, with his trio of one-turn victories in a career of six starts, seems a worthy fit for Saturday's puzzle. Still, the jump to nine furlongs requires a leap of faith, especially compared with the credentials held by The Deputy, who went into his Santa Anita Derby off three top efforts around two turns.

"I wish I felt as strong about this horse as I did the other one," Irwin said, harking back to The Deputy. "Even though we've had him since last summer, we still don't know a lot about him. At the start of the year, we talked with Pletcher and agreed we should keep him running around one corner. He's not really a sprinter, but we thought he was a seven-eighths to a miler, and there's plenty of good races to be won doing that. We didn't want to go crazy."

Then King of the Roxy ran lights-out in the 7 1/2-furlong Hutcheson, stalking a fast pace and drawing off to win with ease. Team Valor decided to at least consider going a little crazy, and pointed for the Derby at Santa Anita.

"The way he ran really surprised us," Irwin said. "Not that he won, but the way he did it."

Looks can be deceiving, but by now Irwin has seen enough to know when a horse is touting him for real. Beginning in the 1980's, with an original syndication group called Clover Racing, Irwin, Siegel, and their investors have had their hands on such outstanding runners as Prized, Star of Cozzene, Political Ambition, Ipi Tombe, Golden Ballet, and Captain Bodgit, who finished a close second to Silver Charm in the 1997 Kentucky Derby.

In King of the Roxy, Irwin and partners have a big, dark bay son of the Valid Appeal stallion Littleexpectations who might not be destined to join the synthetic surface revolution.

"If you look at his pedigree, it's nothing but dirt," Irwin said. "He's more of a power runner, and they like dirt. They don't want to run on Polytrack because it's too much like turf, where you're running on top of it. He just wants to plow through it."

In fact, King of the Roxy's female family spotlights one of California's most notable lines, through his third dam, General Store, the pride of Ken and Bay Schiffer's breeding and racing operation The Hat Ranch. The immediate gene pool includes such major winners as Commissary, Double Discount, Chain Store, and M Double M.

King of the Roxy had run twice at Hollywood Park as a 2-year-old last year, winning second time out, when Team Valor bought him from trainer Richard Matlow. The profit had to be comfortable, since Matlow paid only $8,000 for King of the Roxy on the final day of the marathon Keeneland yearling sale in September of 2005.

In his first start for Team Valor and Pletcher, King of the Roxy finished second in the Saratoga Special, then won the seven-furlong Futurity Stakes at Belmont. In the subsequent Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he was distanced by Street Sense - along with most of the field - but then returned to action with flair on March 3 in the Hutcheson.

In contrast to his record, King of the Roxy has what can be generously called a questionable work ethic, at least in his morning chores.

"Very lazy," Irwin confirmed. "Even though everyone says this can be the ideal work horse - the ones who don't overexert themselves - everybody still wants to see at least a little spark in the morning, if nothing else to make you feel good."

King of the Roxy brought a gleam to all eyes in his most recent work, though, allowing Irwin a ration of hope for Saturday's challenge. Beyond that, don't ask.

"I've told my partners we're not thinking Kentucky Derby here," Irwin said. "Even if he popped up and ran well, I just think coming back in the Kentucky Derby with a horse who's run so few times doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Maybe we'd look at the Preakness. I am willing, though, to have him blow them away by 10 and force us to go to Kentucky."