01/09/2003 1:00AM

Lukas, Baffert start on Derby trail


ALBANY, Calif. - Trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, the titans of the Triple Crown, begin on the trail to the first Saturday in May in the Grade 3, $100,000 Golden Gate Derby on Saturday at Golden Gate.

Lukas sends Ozzie Cat up north in search of his second victory in eight starts. Baffert will attempt to repeat Danthebluegrassman's Gold Rush Stakes-Golden Gate Derby double of last year with Spensive.

"This is where the trail to the Derby starts," Baffert said.

The 1 1/16-mile race drew 11 entrants with Ozzie Cat drawing post 5 and Spensive post 9.

Baffert, who trains the likely 2-year-old male Eclipse winner Vindication, concedes that Spensive could be considered "second tier" in his barn.

But coming off a victory in the one-mile Gold Rush at Golden Gate Fields on Dec. 14, he may be first tier here.

"We want to try to see where he fits in," Baffert said. "He's getting better all the time."

Spensive was slick shod in the Gold Rush on a sloppy track, one of only two runners not in mud caulks that race. Baffert liked the way he dug back in and re-rallied to win after being passed.

"He's got huge feet, and I don't like to use jar [mud] caulks on him. He was slipping and sliding," Baffert said.

"He's one of those horses who is not quick but comes running at the end. He doesn't give in. He's one-paced, but he'll fight."

Russell Baze will replace Julie Krone in the saddle. "I probably won't talk to her, but I'll watch tapes of the race," Baze said.

Looking down the road, Spensive's breeding may lean more to sprinting than classic distances.

That is not true of Ozzie Cat, a son of Storm Cat out of the Mr. Prospector mare Hopespringsforever. Lukas believes that by spring Ozzie Cat could be a colt to contend with. "This horse is a horse that needs two turns. This is a nice option for him," he said.

"He's not as stout physically as he will be, but he's getting better. I remember [1995 Kentucky Derby winner] Thunder Gulch never impressed people in January or February, but you could see he was headed in the right direction. He's got to step up, but I think he's coming into the race in excellent form."

The race should be an open betting event. Standard Setter, who showed speed in his comeback, drew the rail and could be the one to catch. Also in is Yozo, a maiden who will be a long price but isn't a throwout.

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