03/25/2002 1:00AM

Mr. Mellon timed it right for a big step up

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FLORENCE, Ky. - The coming weeks will determine just how important the decision was to run Mr. Mellon in the Rushaway Stakes.

"I really was going to just wait for an allowance at Keeneland," Mr. Mellon's trainer, Elliott Walden, said Monday, two days after the horse raced to a decisive 2 1/4-length victory in the Rushaway at Turfway Park. "I'm just glad I decided to go for this race. Real glad."

With the Rushaway coming six weeks before the May 4 Kentucky Derby, Walden has a crucial option that would not have been plausible otherwise - he can now run Mr. Mellon in a Derby prep on April 13. Walden said that race may be the Blue Grass at Keeneland, but more likely will be the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

Walden said he hopes to retain Pat Day, who has ridden Mr. Mellon in all four career starts, for whichever prep is chosen.

may very well be the late-blooming colt for whom 2002 Derby watchers have been waiting. The colt is by Red Ransom out of Mackie, whose dam was Glowing Tribute, the dam of 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero. The late Paul Mellon's Rokeby Stable raced Red Ransom and Sea Hero, which is the reason Tom VanMeter, who co-bred Mr. Mellon with Walden's older brother, Ben, so named the colt.

"I didn't even know Mr. Mellon," said VanMeter. "This horse was just all Rokeby, top and bottom."

VanMeter and Ben Walden sold Mr. Mellon as a yearling in early 2000 for an undisclosed price, with VanMeter buying back into the colt with WinStar Farm that September at Keeneland for $950,000. Elliott Walden said he has always been high on Mr. Mellon, but the colt had a setback last fall that threatened his racing career.

"He was working one morning at Churchill when he just stopped," said VanMeter. "He was diagnosed with atriofibrillation," a heart-valve problem that ultimately did not require treatment but did compel veterinarian Doug Byars to recommend one month of very light training. "That threw us off our schedule."

Mr. Mellon made it back to the races at Gulfstream, finishing fourth on Jan. 26, then posting a sharp victory on Feb. 23. He was even more impressive Saturday, and now Walden, who already has trained two Derby runners-up (Victory Gallop, 1998, and Menifee, 1999), is just one race away from having the fourth Derby starter of his career.

"It'd be really neat if he went on and became a Derby horse," admitted Walden.

Further coloring Walden's fondness for Mr. Mellon is that his dam, Mackie, was named for Walden's mother, Margaret "Mackie" Walden, who died in 1993. "You don't think of your mom in terms of a horse, but the fact Mackie was such a good racehorse and has produced an exciting horse like Mr. Mellon is the kind of tribute I'm sure she'd be thrilled with," he said.

Mackie was sold two years ago for $5 million and now lives in England. Just two weeks after she produced her last U.S. foal, Mr. Mellon, on May 10, 1999, Mackie was bred to Mr. Prospector, eventually becoming the last mare to produce a foal by that great sire. Mr. Prospector died May 31, 1999.

Colonial Glitter possible for Ashland

With the prospect of a short field for the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland April 6, the owners of Colonial Glitter are considering running the filly back just two weeks after her 10 1/2-length romp in the Bourbonette Stakes.

Majority owner Will Wolford said he probably would prefer to run next in the May 3 Kentucky Oaks, but trainer Paul McGee said Keeneland officials insist the Ashland is coming up light.

The Ashland date presents a conflict for Wolford. It's opening day for the Louisville Fire, the arena 2 football team that Wolford recently bought in partnership. The Fire hosts the Memphis Xplorers at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Nafzger going elsewhere

The two most notable scratches from the Saturday card both were made by Carl Nafzger, who declared Take the Cake from the Bourbonette and Far Sighted Sal from the Queen Stakes.

"Just going to run them someplace else," said Nafzger.

Both probably will run next at Keeneland, he said, with Take the Cake probable for the April 6 Ashland Stakes and Far Sighted Sal aiming for a second-level allowance race.

Promising maiden winners

Walden and McGee unveiled promising fillies in maiden races on the undercard, with both winning easily in their career debuts, both at six furlongs.

Lethal Temper, trained by Walden, won the second race in 1:11.25. His owner, Mark Stanley, paid $800,000 for Lethal Temper, a Seattle Slew filly, as a weanling.

Blow a Kiss, a Salt Lake filly trained by McGee, won the fourth race in 1:10.14, which was faster than the Queen (1:10.78) and Hansel (1:10.95). Blow a Kiss was a $140,000 yearling purchase by Jan, Mace, and Samantha Siegel.

Seven races were run at six furlongs Saturday, with Blow a Kiss posting the second-fastest clocking. Drippingindiamonds won the 12th race, an allowance, by 10 lengths in 1:09.46.

Track holds up despite weather

As usual, the Turfway surface mostly favored speed on Spiral Day, even though Turfway this winter has not been as kind to front-runners as in previous years. Most races were won on or just off the lead, with Perfect Drift being the most notable victor from several lengths off the pace. Final clockings for all races were not unreasonably fast or slow.

Perhaps more importantly, the track was a safe one, which is a tribute to the Turfway personnel who maintained round-the-clock vigils to insure that the track would not thaw. The track was continuously harrowed during sub-freezing temperatures after the Thursday and Friday cards.

Meanwhile, the biggest crowd of the year stayed inside much of the day because of the unseasonably cool temperature (high 40's in sunlight, considerably colder in the shade). That meant the ground floor, always heavily populated by fans in their 20's and 30's, was unusually crowded throughout the day.