02/15/2007 12:00AM

Maiden winner aims high

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Trainer Chris Hartman is hoping Game of Skill's explosive victory at Sunland Park on Jan. 23 was no illusion. Hartman will likely get confirmation either way Saturday when he sends Game of Skill against eight other 3-year-olds in the $100,000 Borderland Derby.

The 1 1/16-mile stakes is the main local prep for the meet's marquee event, the $600,000 WinStar Derby on March 18.

Game of Skill bided his time early in that Jan. 23 race, a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race. He swooped to the lead and romped home by nine with seemingly plenty in reserve, earning a 79 Beyer Speed Figure.

The victory has Hartman beaming about the possibilities.

"Game of Skill is training like a bear," Hartman said. "He was brought to Sunland for both the Borderland and WinStar derbies. In California, he ran a 7 on the Ragozin Sheets as a 2-year-old. That's an outstanding score for that age. At the time, he was on the move for lots of money. He has trained really well since moving to Sunland. I think he will fit in real well for these races."

Game of Skill's primary challenger figures to be Western Prize. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Western Prize has more experience routing and facing stakes runners. He has also shown he can take his show on the road. He has run well at Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, Retama Park, Louisiana Downs, and Remington Park.

Western Prize hasn't run since rallying strongly to take the Eddy Country on Nov. 24 at Zia Park. He has, however, worked strongly for this, primarily at Sam Houston.

Another Brother looms a danger from Southern California. He was fourth in a mile allowance race at Santa Anita on Feb. 2. Another Brother is trained by Doug O'Neill, who has had plenty of success coming to Sunland - he saddled WinStar Derby winners Thor's Echo and Excessivepleasure, and WinStar Oaks winner Cee's Irish.

The Borderland Derby used to be part of a bonus package that also included the WinStar Derby and Kentucky Derby. But this year Sunland will award a $500,000 bonus to any horse who can sweep the WinStar Derby, the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, and the May 5 Kentucky Derby.