04/08/2002 11:00PM

Mott thinking Blue Burner's for real


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Bill Mott believes he has a genuine Kentucky Derby contender in his barn in Blue Burner. Jerry Bailey needs a little more convincing. Both should find out for certain on Saturday when Mott gives Bailey a leg up on the 3-year-old colt in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

If Florida Derby winner Harlan's Holiday is viewed as the Kentucky Derby favorite, then Blue Burner can't be that far behind. , a son of French Deputy, finished second, 3 1/2 lengths behind Harlan's Holiday in the Florida Derby, after finishing third, five lengths behind that same rival in the Fountain of Youth.

Although Blue Burner was soundly beaten by Harlan's Holiday in the Florida Derby, Mott said he believes that few horses would have beaten Harlan's Holiday that afternoon at Gulfstream Park.

"The winner was clearly better than we were on the day," Mott said Tuesday morning. "From my perspective, just watching my horse, I thought it was a huge effort." Mott added that Harlan's Holiday's performance "might have been the best effort" from any of the Derby contenders so far this year.

Mott took over the training of Blue Burner last July after John Tammaro III saddled him to victory in a pair of sprints at Monmouth Park. Blue Burner bucked shins while preparing for the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga and did not race again until Jan. 3, taking a preliminary allowance race at Gulfstream Park.

Bailey, who has lost Kentucky Derby contenders Siphonic and Repent to injury, has seen progress in each of Blue Burner's three starts this year. He had some concern, however, the way Blue Burner flattened out the last part of the Florida Derby.

"He did not close the gap the last sixteenth of a mile," Bailey said. "There could be more than one reason for that. It could be he can't go that far effectively, or he ran up against some tough company, or that he just got tired. He should not be getting tired on Saturday. If he does not have distance limitations, he should run strong all the way through the wire."

Blue Burner was equipped with blinkers for his last start, an equipment change Mott had wanted to make earlier but couldn't because the horse kept on winning. Florida rules prohibit equipment changes off victories.

"He's just lazy, not a lot of focus," Mott said. "He's becoming more professional, but he's still a horse that acts like he needs the aid of blinkers to keep him zeroed in. We knew they were going to make a difference before we ever put them on."

On Tuesday, equipped with blinkers, Blue Burner worked a crisp five furlongs in 1:01.16 over Belmont's main track. Under exercise rider Kenny McCarthy, Blue Burner started about three lengths behind stablemate Jade Butterfly and finished five lengths in front and galloped out impressively.

"That was a good work for him," Mott said.

While Bailey may need more convincing about Blue Burner's Derby credentials, Mott believes the horse has already earned his way there.

"I just want to hold our position," Mott said. "If my horse is 1-2-3 and runs a creditable race and comes out of it sound, we're still on. He's kind of proven to me already he belongs."

The Wood, which kicks off the Big 3 Pick 3 wager that also includes the Blue Grass and the Arkansas Derby, will be televised live on ESPN (3:30-4:30 p.m. Eastern). Post time is 4:15.

Busy undercard for Mott and Bailey

It will be an extremely busy 90 minutes for Mott and Bailey on Saturday as they also have top contenders in both the Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes, run 30 minutes before the Wood, and the Grade 1 Carter Handicap, run 30 minutes after the Wood.

In the Bay Shore, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds, Mott will send out Listen Here, winner of the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes last fall at Belmont. The Bay Shore will be Listen Here's second start of the year. He made his seasonal debut in the Grade 3 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream, where he ran into the extremely talented Ethan Man and finished second, beaten three lengths.

"He went into a drive early. Jerry had to ask him," Mott said. "He wound up putting in a very long drive. He laid up on the other horse and, as Jerry said, he made Pat Day have to move his hands a little bit."

Mott said Listen Here came out of that race in good order, and on Tuesday Listen Here worked an easy half-mile in 50.30 seconds over Belmont's main track. Listen Here figures to one of the choices in the Bay Shore, along with Nashua and Hutcheson runner-up Monthir and Warners. Others expected to run include Carey's Gold, City Sharpster, Parade of Music, Robins Beauty, Roman Dancer, and either Pal's Partner or Whatasaint.

Mott also sent out Burning Roma for a four-furlong workout Tuesday timed in 48.25 seconds. Burning Roma will enter the Carter off a third-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship, his first start in five months. Dream Run, the horse who beat Burning Roma that day, is scheduled to run in the Carter as are Grade 1 winners Snow Ridge, Affirmed Success, Peeping Tom, and the Bobby Frankel-trained Shibboleth.

"To me, this is the toughest one of the weekend," Mott said.

Bella Bellucci works for Comely

Bella Bellucci, winner of the Santa Paula Stakes at Santa Anita in her 3-year-old debut, worked six furlongs in 1:14.58 Tuesday at Aqueduct in preparation for Sunday's $100,000 Comely Stakes. Trainer Neil Drysdale is hoping to use the Comely as a prep for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 3.

"This is a comfortable, nice progression," Drysdale said, referring to the one-turn mile Comely coming off a 6 1/2-furlong race. "She settles well so there's not a concern going two turns. There are no distance concerns."

Bella Bellucci, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, figures to head a short Comely field that could include Cobblestone Road, Madame X Ski, Nonsuch Bay, Short Note, and Spring Meadow.