10/14/2004 11:00PM

One dandy derby

Benoit & Associates
Laura's Lucky Boy (above), a graded stakes winner on grass, and Borrego, coming off a second on dirt in the Super Derby, are two prime contenders in Sunday's Oak Tree Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The last significant stakes of the fall Oak Tree meet will be run Sunday at Santa Anita, where a strong field of 3-year-olds race 1 1/8 miles on turf in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby. Afterward, the shadow of the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup descends on the five-week meet.

The $150,000 Oak Tree Derby cannot be run without considering its impact on the Breeders' Cup. There will be plenty to re-evaluate after Sunday. runs in the Oak Tree Derby, and his effort can either flatter or discredit the horse who beat him by a neck last out - BC Mile-bound Blackdoun.

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Sunday, horseplayers can disregard the Breeders' Cup and focus on finding the winner of an intriguing turf race. The Oak Tree Derby is deep, and solid contenders will be offered at generous prices. Bettors who are right will be rewarded. Trainer Beau Greely believes he is right about the decision to return Borrego to grass after eight races on dirt.

"We originally started him off thinking he was a turf horse, and if takes to the turf like he did last year, I would hope he can win this race," Greely said.

Borrego's first three starts, all on grass, included a maiden win, after which Borrego hit the Kentucky Derby trail. Though winless since Dec. 27, five runner-up finishes affirm his ability. In his most recent start Sept. 25 at Louisiana Downs, Borrego finished second in the Grade 2 Super Derby.

"We're back in 22 days, and if he was not jumping out of his skin I wouldn't run him," Greely said. "He's doing super now. His day will come - he only turned 3 five days after the Preakness. He's kind of a late developer. He's really starting to mature."

The Oak Tree Derby is a prep for the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on Nov. 28 at Hollywood Park. A good effort Sunday by Borrego would give Greely reason to pursue that race. Either way, he will return to dirt for the Strub Series for 4-year-olds during the Santa Anita winter meet. Borrego has won 2 of 11 races and $515,490.

Laura's Lucky Boy never was a dirt horse. But the colt, by Theatrical, has established himself as a top 3-year-old on turf. He won a Grade 3 in May, ran second in a Grade 2, then rebounded from a subpar comeback to finish third by a neck to Blackdoun.

"[Laura's Lucky Boy] ran huge in the Del Mar Derby, which was the goal, and we've had him on a steady work pattern since," trainer Jason Orman said. "He's training better now than ever."

Laura's Lucky Boy would also aim for the Hollywood Derby, and it is unlikely dirt is in his future. The Orman-trained Rock Hard Ten is aiming for the Strub Series, and is scheduled for the first work of his comeback in the next week.

The favorite for the Oak Tree Derby may be Greek Sun. He defeated Laura's Lucky Boy in June, finished second to Kitten's Joy in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington, and in his most recent start Sept. 11, finished last on a yielding Belmont turf course in the Grade 1 Man o' War. Trainer Bobby Frankel returned Greek Sun to California, and the colt, 3 for 5 lifetime, drops in to face his own age group.