04/06/2002 12:00AM

Marasca defeats favored Equality in Aventura

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - He might not be going to the Kentucky Derby but Marasca stamped himself a 3-year-old to watch after holding off 3-5 favorite Equality to register a 1 1/4-length victory in Saturday's $250,000 at Gulfstream Park.

Marasca, beaten in a preliminary allowance race in his previous start, rated just off the early pace of Major Focus, moved three wide to engage leader Charioteer midway around the second turn, opened a three-length advantage near midstretch, and withstood Equality's closing surge.

Equality, always close, was shuffled back a bit behind the tiring Major Focus near the five-sixteenths pole, split horses to gain clearance in early stretch, but could not catch the winner. Legislator rallied mildly to be third.

Marasca covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.11 and paid $17.40. A son of Take Me Out and Rajas Secret, Marasca is owned by Martin Cherry, trained by John Kimmel, and was ridden to victory by Chris DeCarlo.

"We got the jump on the favorite and he couldn't get us at the end," Kimmel said by phone from Oaklawn Park, where he watched the race on television. "He's getting better with each successive start but I don't want to get a case of acute Derby fever. Right now, I think it's best to pick our spots, and if we do he could turn out to be a good, useful horse later in the season."

Trainer Graham Motion said that Equality "didn't have a lot of excuses."

"He got shuffled back a bit more than we really would have liked and once he finally got loose he just ran out of ground," said Motion, who trains Equality for the Pin Oak Stable.

Motion said he would talk to the owner before making a decision on whether to send Equality, the Tampa Bay Derby winner, to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.

The day was not an entire loss for Motion, who earlier saddled He's a Knockout to a two-length victory over Fappie's Notebook in the $100,000 Artax Handicap.

He's a Knockout contested the early pace with Handsome Smile in the seven-furlong Artax and shook loose entering the stretch. He paid $2.80 after covering the distance in 1:22.72 under Ramon Dominguez.