05/20/2004 12:00AM

Pro Prado regroups following Derby flop


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In 1972, when Bob Holthus was into his 20th year as a licensed Thoroughbred trainer, he sent out his first Kentucky Derby starter, Our Trade Winds, to a 13th-place finish. Two weeks later, Our Trade Winds ran back in an overnight stakes at Churchill, winning at 11-1.

Sixteen years later, Holthus saddled his second Derby starter, Proper Reality, who checked in fourth behind Winning Colors in the 1988 running. Proper Reality then won his next two starts.

Another 16 years later, Holthus, in his 52nd year of training, returned to Churchill with his third Derby starter. Pro Prado, the hard-trying gray colt who three weeks ago checked in 13th behind Smarty Jones in the 130th Derby, will make his first post-Derby start against five other 3-year-olds Saturday in the eighth race, a one-mile allowance with a $70,600 purse.

Naturally, Holthus is looking for a pattern to hold. "Hopefully we'll keep the record perfect," he said with a chuckle.

Pro Prado gave valiant chase to Smarty Jones all winter at Oaklawn Park, and everyone knows what Smarty Jones has become. Pro Prado didn't finish as well in the Derby as Holthus had hoped the colt would, but the veteran trainer likes the way the last three weeks have unfolded.

"I was a little disappointed at the way he ran through the stretch in the Derby," said Holthus. "But he came back real good, and we're looking to make a little money with him this summer."

Holthus is hoping Saturday's race will be a useful prep toward the Northern Dancer at Churchill or the Ohio Derby at Thistledown. Both will be run June 12.

Among the chief opponents for Pro Prado on Saturday are Tiger Heart, trained by Ken McPeek, and the Bob Baffert duo of Bornwithit and Courageous Act.

Look for these winners to return

Churchill fans can look for a couple of stakes-caliber horses who posted sharp victories here Wednesday to resurface again at the meet.

Golden Marlin, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, won the ninth-race feature by a driving half-length over a game Molto Vita. Golden Marlin, winner of the Dogwood Stakes last year at 3, was making her second start off a layoff, having finished third behind Lady Tak on opening day.

"This was a good field," said Greg Foley, trainer of Golden Marlin. "She came out of her last race well. We'll probably look for another allowance feature later in the meet."

Three races earlier, Apalachian Thunder ran off to a 4 1/2-length victory in a second-level allowance sprint, a race that marked the colt's first start in more than 13 months.

"I'd been waiting to run him for a while," said Baffert, his trainer, from California. "There was a race for him Derby Week, but it didn't fill. He needed a lot of time off, but obviously it did him some good, the way he ran."

Baffert said he had no definite plans for Apalachian Thunder, other than to "keep him back there."

* The Nicholasville, Ky., juggernaut that Ken and Sarah Ramsey have built among Kentucky owners continues to flourish. The Ramseys, who have won or tied for a record eight straight owner titles at Churchill Downs, appear to be well on their way to a ninth. Into the Thursday card, the Ramseys had 10 wins, four more than their closest pursuer, Overbrook Farm. The Ramseys' string of titles dates to the 2000 spring meet.

* Nominations have been released for the three stakes to be run here Memorial Day weekend. Those races are the $150,000 Early Times Mint Julep on May 29; the $150,000 Dogwood Breeders' Cup on May 30; and the $100,000 Louisville Handicap on May 31.