03/05/2004 12:00AM

A nod's half as good as a wink here


NEW ORLEANS - Pollard's Vision could sneak up on some people Sunday in the Louisiana Derby. That said, some people could sneak up on Pollard's Vision.

The horse's name tells his story. Red Pollard was Seabiscuit's jockey, a job made extra difficult by his lack of sight in one eye. Pollard's Vision has no vision in his right eye, though his trainer, Todd Pletcher, does not view the condition as a major impediment.

"He was supposedly born that way," Pletcher said. "He's been pretty straightforward, really. The only time it seemed to bother him was in his first start."

That was back in July, when Pollard's Vision finished seventh, beaten more than 22 lengths. He returned less than a month later and won a Saratoga maiden race by more than 12, but that was Pollard's Vision's last victory until this winter. A month ago at Gulfstream Park, he won an entry-level allowance race at 1 1/16 miles by more than five lengths, a performance that earned him a berth in the Louisiana Derby.

Horses lacking vision in the right eye generally don't like being trapped on the inside. There, they cannot see the animals outside of them, which can lead to discomfort. But Pollard's Vision has broken from inside posts and raced in traffic several times without incident.

Said Pletcher, "He'll carry his head tilted a little one way to open up his field of vision, but that's about it."

Pollard's Vision needs a high placing in the Louisiana Derby to be considered a top-level 3-year-old. Even with a strong showing, as a son of Carson City, he will have to outrun his speed-leaning pedigree. Pletcher described Pollard's Vision as a strong galloper that likes to race forwardly in routes.

Just use common sense if you ever approach the colt. "You obviously wouldn't want to walk up to him on his blind side," Pletcher said.

Velazquez makes the call

Jockey John Velazquez rides first-call for Pletcher. As such, he has been the regular rider recently for Pollard's Vision and Shaniko. When both were entered in Sunday's Louisiana Derby, Velazquez was faced with a choice, but behind-the-scenes factors went into Velazquez's decision to ride Pollard's Vision, according to Pletcher.

"Johnny had the final say," Pletcher said.

"But he also rides Value Plus, who is owned by the same people who own Shaniko, Mr. and Mrs. Jones," Pletcher said, referring to Aaron and Marie Jones. "At some point, there might have been a potential conflict if he continued to ride both Value Plus and Shaniko."

Also, because Pletcher gave the mount on Shaniko on Sunday to Jerry Bailey, Velazquez still has a chance to regain the mount at some point, since Bailey is juggling several Kentucky Derby prospects at the moment, most notably Birdstone, Eddington, and Read the Footnotes.

Quite a comeback

The trainer Dallas Keen can get a horse ready to win after a long layoff, but this was ridiculous. Yessirgeneralsir, making his first start since Aug. 9, won Thursday's ninth race here by 10 lengths. His time of 1:38.53 for one mile and 40 yards on dirt missed the track record by .01.

Yessirgeneralsir, a Texas-bred by Patton, made an early lead, but appeared to be running much too fast for a route race at Fair Grounds. He passed a half-mile in 46.49 seconds with pursuers close to his heels, but after running six furlongs in 1:11.32, Yessirgeneralsir found another gear and sprinted clear of six opponents, widening through the stretch.

Astride his pony during trainer hours Friday morning, Keen still was smiling. "I thought he'd run well, but I didn't expect that," he said.

Owned by Keen's longtime client, Jim Jackson, Yessirgeneralsir had knee surgery after his final start of 2003, and he has come back strong. Keen said the 4-year-old colt would be pointed to the Premiere Stakes for Texas-breds on April 15 at Lone Star with an eye to the Texas Mile there.

Tough call in Battle Star

The Louisiana-bred 3-year-old filly division has been difficult to figure out since this year's crop was 2, and Sunday's $75,000 Battler Star Handicap is no exception. The Battler Star, which will go as race 7 on Sunday, drew a field of 10, and these fillies look as inscrutable as ever.

Rose of Sophia won the Champions Day Lassie here in December, but has since lost twice. Merry Mary and Cool Cool Cool also have had their moments, but the time might not be ripe for these two to step up.

Placid Star has won all three of her starts, a string that began with a statebred $15,000 maiden claimer and most recently ran through a $125,000 stakes race Feb. 7 at Delta. That win came at two turns, and the Battler Star is at six furlongs, but Placid Star won a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race here before going to Delta.

The filly she beat that day, Von Braun, returns Sunday with a chance to win. A stakes newcomer, Dear Alicia, also appears to have a shot. But with this group, who really can say?

No shipping for Howard

Neil Howard trains Breakaway and Gradepoint, both of whom have spent the winter at Fair Grounds. He decided to race both in the Louisiana Derby rather than split them and send one out of town for another race.

"Breakaway's a little immature. By keeping him here, there's less shipping, less stress," Howard said.

Howard said he also wanted to keep both horses on the Fair Grounds track, which he believes is the ideal place to spend the winter.

"It's a kind, forgiving track," he said.

Asked who he feared most in the race, Howard had a great self-deprecating line: "You know me. If I have the only two horses in a race, I think I'm going to be third."

- additional reporting by Jay Privman