03/24/2009 11:00PM

Machowsky, Kelly Leak following different path

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Kelly Leak was one of the top 2-year-olds in Southern California last year, but rather than point him for the Kentucky Derby his connections are taking a more conservative approach and hitting the road for Sunday's $800,000 Sunland Park Derby.

Kelly Leak is eligible for a $100,000 bonus if he wins, because he accumulated graded earnings last year in the Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar. He will be making his first start beyond a mile in the 1 1/8-mile Sunland Derby, which heads a five-stakes card worth more than $1.4 million at the New Mexico track.

"The horse has done pretty much anything we've asked of him, but we don't really see him as a First Saturday in May kind of horse, a mile-and-a-quarter horse," said Mike Machowsky, who trains Kelly Leak. "I think a mile and a sixteenth, a mile and an eighth is good for him right now.

"If he ran huge at Sunland, we might take a shot at the Preakness," Machowsky added. "We could also look at the Lone Star Derby or Swaps or turf races around the country. There are so many darn good spots for him, we want to keep all of our options open. There are so many opportunities to make a lot of money with a nice little horse like him."

Kelly Leak has already been effective on the road, finishing third to This Ones For Phil in the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25. It was the first dirt race for Kelly Leak, a maiden winner at five furlongs on a synthetic surface at Hollywood Park. In his most recent start, he was an explosive winner of a first-level allowance turf race at Santa Anita on Feb. 22. It was a breakthrough race for Kelly Leak, as he closed effectively while picking up his first two-turn win.

"Going into that last race, we wanted him covered up and wanted to move late because he's got a really good turn of foot that he's shown on any surface," Machowsky said. "After that race, mentally, he's acted like a horse that has it all figured out. Everything clicked."

Blahut Stables, which raced multiple Grade 1 winner Southern Image, is the majority owner of Kelly Leak. He was a $110,000 purchase at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's auction of 2-year-olds last March.

"He's a racy horse, a real pretty horse," Machowsky said. "And his sire, Runaway Groom, has been a solid stallion for many, many years."

Machowsky said Mike Smith, a New Mexico native, will ride Kelly Leak, who is named for a character from the movie "Bad News Bears."

The Sunland Derby is expected to draw a full field with a number of front-runners, which could set Kelly Leak up for another off-the-pace run. He is looking for his first stakes win since being disqualified and placed fourth for interference from his nose win in last year's Best Pal.

"That was a tough one," Machowsky said. "It was a tough pill to swallow. Some of the owners still haven't gotten over it."

A first-place check for $500,000 would help ease the pain.