01/07/2004 12:00AM

Only four likely for derby

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ALBANY, Calif. - Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Golden Gate Derby may have only four entrants after three of the nominees were entered in a one-mile allowance race Friday.

Corvallis Dee, Dixieland Heater, O.K. Mikie, and Skipaslew are expected to enter the 1 1/16-mile derby. O.K. Mikie finished third and Corvallis Dee finished seventh in the Gold Rush, which was won by Skipaslew. Dixieland Heater won an allowance sprint on the same day. All four have run for a claiming tag at least once in their careers, and three have been claimed.

Trainer Craig Lewis said he might run Irish-bred Gwaihir in the derby. Gwaihir was third in his U.S. debut in the Hill Rise on turf at Santa Anita on Dec. 29, and Lewis said he would prefer a fast track for Gwaihir's first try on dirt. With showers in the forecast before Saturday's race, the track is unlikely to be fast that day.

Bensquito, Tacky, and Kilgowan, all nominated to the derby, entered Friday's allowance race at one mile. Four others also signed up for the race.

Racing secretary Tom Doutrich said he found himself in a catch-22 approaching the Golden Gate Derby.

"If you go back a month, I didn't put a condition race in the book to force them to run in the [Gold Rush]," Doutrich said.

This time Doutrich offered the horsemen an option.

"I may have cost some horses from this stakes, but horses have to go through their conditions," Doutrich said. "You have to develop horses, and it's not fair to have to go from a maiden race to a graded stakes race.

"I'm hoping that some that go in here will come back in the Golden State Mile [Feb. 8] and the El Camino Real Derby [March 13]."

Friday's allowance race includes three runners coming off maiden victories in their second career starts. Silent Gold won a sprint Dec. 14. Kilgowan won at a mile Nov. 14. Tacky won at 1 1/16 miles Dec. 26.

Bensquito and Iza Big Star each come off wins at one mile. Bensquito won a $40,000 starter allowance on Dec. 4, while Iza Big Star won a $32,000 claimer Dec. 21.

Silent Gold, who drew the rail, should be the one to catch, but at a mile, the stalker Kilgowan may be the one to beat. Tacky probably needs a longer race to run his best.