03/08/2002 12:00AM

Publication tries to gain respect

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NEW ORLEANS - If Publication is the forgotten horse in Sunday's Louisiana Derby, it won't be the first time he has been overlooked.

Publication went off at 103-1 last November in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. "I don't think I've ever started a 100-1 shot before," trainer Terry Knight said. Twelfth early in the race, Publication began a sustained rally midway through the race and finished fourth, beaten about three lengths by the winner, Johannesburg.

"I didn't know that he'd win," Knight said, "but in my mind he was no more than a 25-1 shot."

Now Publication, a winner of 2 of 4 starts, including the Arlington-Washington Futurity, has been disregarded again. Repent finished less than two lengths in front of Publication in the Breeders' Cup, Siphonic less than a length, but while those two horses top nearly every list of current Kentucky Derby contenders, Publication generally is nowhere to be found.

He is not in Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch, a listing of the top 25 contenders for the Kentucky Derby. In the Grade 2, $750,000 Louisiana Derby, which has Repent as a strong favorite, he may be no better than fourth or fifth choice.

Publication continues to fly below the national radar because he ran poorly in his last start as a 2-year-old, finishing fifth in the Hollywood Futurity, and because he has trained out of the spotlight this winter in northern California. Those factors might have led some to label his Breeders' Cup race a fluke, and since Publication, by design, is getting a somewhat late start to his 3-year-old campaign, there has been no way to measure his development against other top 3-year-olds. Until now.

"This race really should tell us more about it," said Knight. "The horses everyone's talking about, we're not that far behind them."

Knight himself picked Publication, a $29,000 purchase, out of a 2-year-old auction last May. Publication, who is by the Seattle Slew stallion Petionville, was owned by Larry Washington until after the Breeders' Cup, when he was sold privately to Triple Crown Bloodstock, a Nevada-based ownership group.

Now that Knight has Publication ready to race, it's time to leave home. Publication is a natural late runner, strong on stamina and finish, light on speed. And though there is a race in his backyard this weekend, Saturday's El Camino Real Derby, Knight has no interest in starting Publication on his home track at Bay Meadows.

"This track out here is so speed favoring," Knight said. "It's not kind to a horse with my horse's style. He showed an ability or fondness for deeper, heavier tracks. A lot of horses can't handle those tracks, where he can."

And so early Thursday morning, Publication boarded a plane bound from Oakland to New Orleans by way of Memphis, and by mid-afternoon Publication was bedded down in a stall at Fair Grounds. Travel is nothing new to him. Publication won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race last Sept. 2 at Bay Meadows, and Knight, sensing weakness in the Midwest 2-year-old division, flew him to Arlington for the Grade 2 Arlington-Washington Futurity. With only one sprint race under his belt, and coming off a long flight, Publication won the Futurity by a neck.

Publication's only real misstep came in the Dec. 15 Hollywood Futurity, where he finished fifth, beaten nine lengths by Siphonic. "Maybe we'd done a little more with him than we'd needed to do," Knight said. "He was a little flat in the race."

So early this year, when many trainers were beginning to crank up their top 3-year-old prospects, Knight backed off. Publication had nothing but the lightest exercise for a few weeks, then started logging long gallops. "We put a lot of miles in him," Knight said. Publication has breezed four times for his comeback race, all longer stamina-based works, and he will be partnered for the first time Sunday by northern California's leading rider, Russell Baze.

"He's fresh and eager and very willing to do something," Knight said. "Whether he's good enough to bang heads with one or two of those horses, I don't know. That's what we're there to find out."