03/19/2002 12:00AM

No place like home for Request for Parole

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As someone who has been working with racehorses for 17 years, Steve Margolis is fully aware that most Kentucky Derby contenders don't spend their winters at chilly Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

Yet Margolis is confident that recent months at Turfway have been very productive for , the colt he will saddle Saturday in Turfway's annual showcase event, the $500,000 Lane's End Spiral Stakes.

"I think it was the right decision to stay here," Margolis said Tuesday on a national conference call. "Everything's worked out timing-wise, and we haven't missed any time training."

Margolis, a 38-year-old New York City native, worked lengthy stints as the top assistant to East Coast trainers Howie Tesher and Stan Hough, coming to Kentucky in 1997 with Hough. When Hough's major clients, Bea and Bob Roberts, fell on hard financial times two years ago, the stable was mostly dispersed, with Hough returning East and Margolis going out on his own with a small string of the Robertses' leftovers in Kentucky.

Among the handful of horses that Sam and Jeri Knighton, who live in the Chicago suburbs, gave Margolis to train last spring was a 2-year-old named Request for Parole, a Judge T.C. colt who was bred by the Robertses. In nine starts, the colt has earned nearly $300,000, and he has four wins, three seconds, and one third.

The most impressive section of his resume might not be his back-to-back wins this winter in Turfway's two Spiral preps, the Feb. 2 WEBN Frog Stakes and March 2 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, but the near-misses he had last year at 2. Among those who finished ahead of him in those efforts were Harlan's Holiday, Repent, and Siphonic.

"He's a nice, hard-trying horse," said Margolis. "He's a horse with a tremendous amount of pride, and I think if he keeps on improving, he might be right there with the big boys."

Margolis will have Pat Day aboard Request for Parole in the Spiral, which, given Day's immense popularity in Kentucky, all but insures that the colt will be one of the favorites in the 1 1/8-mile race.

"If the horse does well, we might run him back again in three weeks, but more likely we'd just go on to the Derby" on May 4, said Margolis. "It is six weeks [between races], but I really think this horse is seasoned enough already."

Meanwhile, Perfect Drift, the colt that Request for Parole narrowly defeated in the two Turfway preps this winter, had his final prep for the Grade 2 Spiral when he breezed five furlongs Tuesday in 1:02.40 at the Trackside training facility in Louisville.

As Margolis did with Request for Parole, trainer Murray Johnson has turned to a Hall of Fame jockey to guide Perfect Drift in the Spiral. Eddie Delahoussaye, the last jockey to win back-to-back Derbies (1982-83), will be in from California to ride Perfect Drift.

"Mentally, the horse couldn't be better," said Johnson.

A field of at least eight 3-year-olds is shaping up for the Spiral, which will be televised on a delayed basis on ESPN2. The one-hour show begins at 6:30 p.m. Eastern and will also include a replay of the UAE Derby from Nad Al Sheba in Dubai.

The probable Spiral favorite is Saratoga Blues, who is unbeaten in three starts for owner Alvin Akman and trainer Tony Dutrow. Saratoga Blues, who skipped the Gotham last weekend to await the Spiral, was scheduled to arrive Thursday at Turfway following a van ride from Laurel Park in Maryland. Saratoga Blues last raced in the Feb. 9 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct.

Straight Gin, who arrived at Keeneland early this week for trainer Nick Zito, is another major contender, having won his last two starts at Gulfstream.

The other probables include My Man Ryan, a recent allowance winner at Aqueduct for trainer Rick Violette, and two shippers from California, Azillion and Gold Dollar, who are expected to arrive together Thursday. Locally based Benny the Hawk, a distant fourth in the Battaglia, probably will be the longest shot in the field.

The Spiral is the centerpiece of what is always the best program of Turfway's long winter-spring meet. Four other stakes will be run on a card that begins at noon. Those races are:

* The $150,000 Bourbonette Breeders' Cup, which will have a large field of 3-year-old fillies headed by Cobblestone Road, Colonial Glitter, Ideveter, Salvi, and Take the Cake.

* The $100,000 Rushaway, which is the "little brother" to the Spiral. The 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds also should have a big field, with American Style, trained by Zito, as the possible favorite.

* The $60,000 Queen, headed by City Fair and Far Sighted Sal.

* The $60,000 Hansel, which is coming up with a light field of 3-year-old sprinters.