04/26/2002 12:00AM

N.Y. covets its first Derby winner


New York has yet to produce a Kentucky Derby winner, but that could change next weekend when Arkansas Derby winner Private Emblem carries the hopes and dreams of many New York breeders on his back in the 128th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Martin G. Kinsella, the executive director of the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund, said if Private Emblem won the Kentucky Derby, it would be a huge boost for the statebred program.

"It would be gigantic," Kinsella said. "That kind of publicity really couldn't be matched no matter how much we had in our advertising budget. I think it would tend to quiet the critics that believe New York-breds are inferior. It would be a nice vindication for New York-breds."

Kinsella said just having a New York-bred that owns legitimate credentials in the Kentucky Derby field is advantageous to the program.

"Even if he doesn't win, I think having Private Emblem in the Derby will help us tremendously, especially in the prices of New York-breds at sales," Kinsella said. "His win in the Arkansas Derby was valuable to our program."

New York has firmly established itself as a state capable of cranking out quality runners. In the last 10 years alone, scores of graded stakes winners were produced in New York, including Critical Eye, Fourstardave, Gander, L'Carriere, Saratoga Dew, Say Florida Sandy, and Victory Speech.

But horses bred in New York - who have a limited history of running in the Derby - have had virtually no impact on the Derby's outcome. The last New York-bred to compete in the Derby was Victory Speech, who finished 10th as a longshot in 1996. The most recent New York-bred to finish among the top three in the Derby was At the Threshold, the 1984 third-place finisher who was 37-1. At the Threshold was the sire of Lil E. Tee, the 1992 Derby winner.

Private Emblem was bred in partnership by Dr. Doug Koch's Berkshire Stud and by Tom Tatham's Oak Cliff Stable. Private Emblem's dam, Merion Miss, is the product of a foal-sharing arrangement between Koch and Tatham.

Koch, a veterinarian, has a farm in Pine Plains, N.Y., where Private Emblem was foaled. Tatham, the breeder of Sunday Silence, the 1989 Kentucky Derby winner, is based in Texas.

Despite his New York roots, Private Emblem, a handsome dark bay with a distinctive blaze that runs the length of his face, sports more of a Texas flavor. James Cassels and Bob Zollars, who both live in the Lone Star State, own the horse. Cassels and Zollars purchased Private Emblem, an Our Emblem colt, for $35,000 from Koch and Tatham at Keeneland when the horse was a yearling.

Private Emblem's trainer, Steve Asmussen, in a tight battle for the country's leading trainer in races won with Scott Lake, keeps his main divisions in the Midwest and in Texas at Lone Star, where he has led the standings the last three years. Asmussen's family operates a training center in Laredo, Texas.

Big Apple Triple loaded

Private Emblem is a nominee to this year's Big Apple Triple, a three-race series for New York-breds that starts with the $100,000-added Mike Lee at Belmont Park on June 29.

But even if Private Emblem skips the series and is pointed to bigger races, this year's Big Apple Triple could draw one of its strongest groups of 3-year-olds since its inception in 1999.

Last weekend at Aqueduct, Trial Prep, a Big Apple Triple nominee, put on a good show in the Times Square Division of the New York Stallion Stakes.

Trial Prep, who is by Ormsby, one New York's leading sires, won the Times Square division after losing the lead in the stretch and battling back bravely for a three-quarter-length win over Beyond Chance. The win looked even better when Trial Prep's trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr., revealed his horse lost a shoe during the running of the race.

Trial Prep, owned by Hemlock Hills Farm, Gabrielle Farm, and Sanford Goldfarb, has three career wins from four starts.

Another Big Apple Triple nominee is Roman Dancer, a good-looking winner of the Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct earlier this month.