04/02/2003 12:00AM

Ocean Terrace, what art thou?


ARCADIA, Calif. - Unbeaten and untested is the scouting report on Ocean Terrace, the promising 3-year-old owned by Fog City Stable. The description will need to be updated after Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

There is little doubt that Ocean Terrace will face a stern test in the Santa Anita Derby, one of the year's top Kentucky Derby preps. He drew the rail and will be part of a strong field of 10.

If Ocean Terrace wins the Santa Anita Derby, he will approach the Kentucky Derby on May 3 as a leading contender.

"This weekend, we'll get the test," trainer Bob Hess Jr. said. "He has yet to beat what I consider a top horse. He is only doing what he has to do.

"We could have gone to the Arkansas Derby or the Illinois Derby and been 2-1. This will give us a good gauge of what we have. He doesn't have to win, but we have to run a bang-up race to think about the Kentucky Derby."

Ocean Terrace made his debut Dec. 26 and has won all three of his starts. He won a maiden race and an allowance race at Santa Anita and his stakes debut in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby over 1 1/16 miles at Golden Gate Fields on March 8.

Along the way, Ocean Terrace has dodged the top 3-year-olds based in California, but earned enough respect to secure a place in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager this weekend. He closed at 40-1 in Pool 2 last month.

"We feel there is a lot left," said Hess, 37. "We feel there is untapped ability."

Purchased for $700,000 at the 2001 Keeneland September yearling sale, Ocean Terrace is the best 3-year-old owned by Fog City, the stable of Bay Area businessmen Bill Bianco, 62, and David Shimmon, 44. Bianco is also a member of the California Horse Racing Board.

In recent years, Bianco and Shimmon have paid substantial amounts for yearlings and 2-year-olds in training, but have yet to have a Triple Crown starter. Ocean Terrace could be the one.

"We're hoping this is no fluke," Bianco said. "He has the early speed and the endurance. The next two races will tell. This is exciting. It's like having a grandchild that hits the home run or scores the goal that wins the soccer game."

Ocean Terrace is the first horse to enter the Santa Anita Derby with an unbeaten record since War Chant, who finished second to The Deputy in 2000. War Chant later finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby and won the Breeders' Cup Mile that season.

Ocean Terrace made his debut on the opening day of the Santa Anita meeting in a maiden special weight over 6 1/2 furlongs. Ignored at 14-1, he disputed the early lead under jockey Kent Desormeaux and battled with Nation Wide News through the stretch, and they finished in a dead heat for first. They were five lengths clear of their rivals.

"That's when we thought we had something special," Bianco said.

Hess waited more than seven weeks before trying Ocean Terrace against winners.

"The first time out no one other than myself, the owners, and Desormeaux knew the horse was only 75 percent fit," Hess said. "I would have loved to have run him three weeks back but he would have bounced all over the racetrack."

Ocean Terrace reappeared in a seven-furlong allowance race on Feb. 16. Sent off as the favorite, Ocean Terrace challenged for the lead to early stretch, and pulled clear to win by a length.

Hess passed two stakes at Santa Anita - the San Rafael Stakes on March 1 and the San Felipe Stakes on March 16 - in favor of the weaker El Camino Real Derby.

Sent off at 9-2, Ocean Terrace stalked the pace to the final turn, took the lead in early stretch, and won by 1 1/2 lengths - a perfect trip, Hess said.

"I would have loved to have had one more start, but we've got a good foundation for a horse that has run three times," he said. "I think we'll see the real Ocean Terrace. I hope it's good enough to beat Kafwain, Atswhatimtalknbout, and Buddy Gil."