08/28/2004 11:00PM

Organ Grinder wins epic Canadian Derby

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EDMONTON, Alberta - In a heart-stopping stretch drive, an odds-on favorite battling cheek to jowl with a 34-1 longshot, Organ Grinder gave his pilot Jim McAleney the thrill of his life in a "homecoming" at the track where he was Alberta's champion apprentice 17 year earlier.

An overflow throng of more than 10,000 that jammed every vantage point bore witness to a furious duel through the stretch that will be remembered as an epic in the 75-year history of th $250,000 Canadian Derby.

"At the head of the stretch, I thought I was beat," Mcaleney said of the grey colt who had to reach back to his championship bloodlines, his sire Grindstone a Kentucky Derby winner and his grandfather a Belmont Stakes champ.

Then McAleney went to work on the Sid Attard-trained colt that might have been a Queen's Plate winner but for foaling in the wrong country. Right-handed he worked on his steed, then lefthanded, and back to right for the last few jumps.

All through the stretch, the two bobbing heads of a 4-5 favorite and a 34-1 longshot, the crowd in a frenzy, rival Richard Hamel striving to get a few more precious inches out of his California-bred Controlled Meeting.

McAleney, from post 3 in the field of ll, found himself on the rail in the early part, but then worked his way out to be four and three wide on the turns, conceding real estate but safely out of trouble.

Meanwhile, Controlled Meeting, was on the head end by default, when the plan had been to stalk the early speed like the filly Overact. His destiny thus determined, Hamel played the role of pacesetter to perfection, yielding ever so reluctantly in the last bob of the heads.

Young conditioner Robertino Diodoro had presented a fresh colt to Hamel, aboard derby winner Fancy As three years earlier. Shrewdly avoiding the mile and five sixteeenths Count Lathum since winning the Ky Alta in mid-July, Diordoro all but pulled off his finesse.

Organ Grinder co-owner Bill McClellan dedicated the victory to his mother who spent her early years in Edmonton.

And just behind the top pair, another battle had been brewing. Bonspiel, 50-1 on the morning line, and another longshot Cariboo Prospector were at it hammer and tongs, but this time the stewards were unable to separate them. So they shared $37,500 in their dead hat.

Cariboo Prospector, emerging from optional claimers at Vancouver, was uncoupled from Overact in the custody of Edmonton-born Dave Forster.

Overact, winner of the $100,000 Sonoma only two weeks earlier, all but caused a wreck in the starting gate.

"She cut herself up pretty good," Forster reflected. "She was in the fight for quite a bit, but then she decided she had had enough. But she'll be in the B.C. Oaks and you'll be seeing her back here one day.

After the dead heat, the remaining finishers were Plenty Of Heat, Kat Kool, Joyride, Royalty Boy, Lord Samarai, Proud son and Overact.

Earlier, another longshot Ice Girl, paying $37.90, captured another thriller in the $75,000 City Of Edmonton Distaff over Think Fast, both of whom had been racing at Hastings Park. Neither favored Hanselina nor A Shaky Start fired finishing at the back of the field of six.