04/12/2004 11:00PM

Lexington field is Derby-challenged

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LAS VEGAS - While it is highly unlikely that Saturday's Lexington Stakes will provide the winner of this year's Kentucky Derby, the race features a tightly matched group of not-ready-for-prime-time players that includes a ton of speed will do battle in the season's final Derby prep.

Quintons Gold Rush is a son of Metropolitan Handicap winner Wild Rush (also the sire of Wimbledon, Judiths Wild Rush, Hollywood Story, and Stellar Jayne), and like Seattle Slew is from the tail-female family of the great broodmare Myrtlewood. He may be the most talented colt in this year's Lexington, but his connections are choosing a brutal schedule for such a lightly raced colt in order to try and get him to the Kentucky Derby. The reason seems obvious: With only $57,000 in graded stakes earnings, Quintons Gold Rush lacks the earnings required to make it into the Derby's probable field of 20, but the Lexington purse money could help him make the list.

Quintons Gold Rush finished second in his career debut on Dec. 17 behind Preachinatthebar, who subsequently won the San Felipe Stakes. But it was his second start on Jan. 18 that put him on everyone's list of 3-year-olds to watch. In a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight, he dueled for the lead and pulled away from Wimbledon, who returned to win a maiden race by eight lengths followed by a victory in the Louisiana Derby.

Making his stakes debut in the San Rafael on March 13, Quintons Gold Rush was four wide nearly the entire mile, finishing fourth behind Imperialism and Lion Heart in a deceivingly good effort for such an inexperienced colt. In his fourth start, Quintons Gold Rush had little left in deep stretch after battling Lucky Pulpit for six furlongs in the Santa Anita Derby, and finished fourth, beaten only three lengths by Castledale.

By running in the Lexington only two weeks after the Santa Anita Derby and just two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, Quintons Gold Rush would be running three hard races in the span of four weeks if he makes it to the Derby.

Another possible starter in the Lexington who is also coming back after just racing two weeks ago, in the Illinois Derby, is Suave. A beautifully bred son of A.P. Indy out of the multiple Grade 1 winner Urbane, Suave finished a non-threatening third behind Pollard's Vision and Song of the Sword, beaten 5 1/2 lengths, in the Illinois Derby. At times, Suave has looked like a colt with a future, but has been erratic in five starts this year. While he gets speed from his damsire, Citidancer, Suave is bred to get better with maturity and distance.

Song of the Sword would also be returning in the Lexington off a two-week layoff. After winning three straight races at Aqueduct, Song of the Sword finished a game second in the Illinois Derby. By Unbridled's Song, he is out of a Crusader Sword mare and his fifth dam is a half-sister to Attica, the dam of Sir Ivor.

The speed of the speed in the Lexington is Boomzeeboom, who determinedly turned back Minister Eric in a prolonged stretch drive in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race three weeks ago. By Explosive Red out of an Unreal Zeal mare, Boomzeeboom carries the Rasmussen Factor (inbreeding to a superior female within five generations through different individuals) as he is inbred 4x4 to stakes winner Gold Digger, the dam of Mr. Prospector. Boomzeeboom set rapid fractions and finished second, beaten one length, in Lion Heart's 2-year-old debut last October, finishing three lengths clear of Preachinatthebar.

A colt who looks well suited to the Lexington is Fire Slam. A son of the white-hot young stallion Grand Slam, Fire Slam had a hoof problem all winter but is finally healthy. The stallions up close in Fire Storm's pedigrees are all known speed influences: Grand Slam, Salt Lake, Copelan, and What a Pleasure. Fire Slam's fourth dam, Realcraft Pleasure, is a half-sister to the brilliant stallion Crafty Prospector. Obviously, Fire Slam is not bred to get 1 1/4 miles, but 1 1/16 miles is well within his scope.

Pomeroy, who showed high speed and quality as a 2-year-old, made his belated 3-year-old debut in the Gotham Stakes on March 20, and finished a game second behind Saratoga County. He chased Cuvee over a sloppy track in the Saratoga Special last year, while finishing well clear of Limehouse. In his next start, Pomeroy finished first in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Cup Juvenile, ahead of Mr. Jester and The Cliff's Edge, at Turfway Park, but was disqualified and placed third for interference in the stretch. By speed sire Boundary (by Danzig), he is out of a Seeking the Gold mare, and 1 1/16 miles is a good fit. He can be expected to improve in his second start off a six-month layoff.

Saratoga County rallied off a wicked pace and defeated Pomeroy and the highly regarded Eddington in the Gotham Stakes. Before that, he finished second to Wynn Dot Comma in the Spectacular Bid Stakes and was a troubled third to Limehouse in the Hutcheson Stakes, when he hit the gate at the start and checked early. By sprinter-miler Valid Expectations (Valid Appeal), Saratoga County should find 1 1/16 miles his limit.