04/30/2002 11:00PM

Pisces, Snow Ridge among Derby undercard luminaries


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Ken McPeek may already have won a major stakes on Saturday when he walks into the paddock to saddle Harlan's Holiday for the Derby.

A race earlier, McPeek starts Pisces, in the $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, the richest turf race at Churchill Downs this year.

Pisces won the Grade 2 Appleton Handicap at Gulfstream Park in January. A 5-year-old, he has made two starts since arriving at McPeek's barn in March, finishing seventh in the Explosive Bid Handicap at Fair Grounds on March 24 and a fast-closing second in the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland on April 12.

A Grade 1, the Woodford is the fifth of six stakes on an 11-race program. Run over 1 1/8 miles on turf, it drew a strong field of 10.

The Woodford's likely favorite is Beat Hollow, who was second by a neck in the Explosive Bid Handicap. A Group 1 winner in France in 2000, the 5-year-old Beat Hollow has made two starts for trainer Bobby Frankel this year after an 18-month layoff at the end of his European career.

The field also includes Baptize, Climate, Hap, Quiet Resolve, Sligo Bay, Talkmeister, With Anticipation, and White Heart, the defending champion.

Touch of the Blues and Bach were not entered. Bach, third in the 2001 Breeders' Cup Mile at Belmont Park, did not ship from Ireland with trainer Aidan O'Brien's two Kentucky Derby prospects, Castle Gandolfo and Johannesburg. Touch of the Blues, the winner of the Maker's Mark Mile, will be pointed for the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park on May 2.

McPeek was encouraged by Pisces's race at Keeneland, in which he was beaten three-quarters of a length by Touch of the Blues.

"I loved his race at Keeneland," McPeek said. "He had a poor trip. When he broke free, he was flying."

The fourth through ninth races on Saturday are stakes, a sequence that ends with the Kentucky Derby.

* The fourth race is the $150,000 Churchill Downs Handicap over seven furlongs. The field of 10 includes Snow Ridge, who won three sprint stakes at Santa Anita earlier this year, but was a disappointing ninth as the favorite in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 13.

Snow Ridge, who can win from the front, is the 119-pound highweight. He faces Ceeband, the winner of the Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap last July at Hollywood Park, and Crafty Shaw, who won three wintertime stakes at Fair Grounds, Oaklawn Park and Turfway Park.

* None of the runners in the $100,000 Three Chimneys Juvenile over five furlongs have stakes experience. The race is led by Keeneland maiden winners Posse, Jet Love, Holiday Runner and Lord Rambo, all of whom won their career debuts by six lengths or more.

Posse may go favored on the strength of his win by 13 1/4 lengths on April 10.

West coast shippers Hollywood Honey and Souvenir's Lad and Florida invader Shelby's Angel give the race national flavor.

* Stakes winners from Keeneland and Texas lead the $100,000 Citgo Distaff Turf Mile. Dianehill, who won the Stravinsky Stakes at Keeneland last month, is the likely favorite. Trained by Elliott Walden, she was a stakes winner at Turf Paradise earlier this year.

La Recherche, the winner of the Irving Distaff at Lone Star Park in her last start, drew the outside post in the field of 10.

* There are 13 entrants for the $200,000 Humana Distaff over seven furlongs.

The 117-pound highweight is Nasty Storm, the winner of the Hurricane Bertie Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 17 for trainer Mark Hennig.

Penny Marie, a minor stakes winner at Santa Anita in March, drew post 7 and was assigned 116 pounds. Trained by Bob Hess, Jr., Penny Marie was also entered for Thursday's Mamzelle Stakes over five furlongs on turf.

Trainer Bob Baffert starts Netherland, an import from Argentina who is making her U.S. debut.

* In the third race, Outofthebox, the winner of the Super Derby last September, starts in a $59,800 allowance race over 1 1/16 miles. He was unplaced in his last start, the Clark Handicap here last November.