10/14/2004 12:00AM

Rating will be key for 'Cool'


CHICAGO - At the 11th hour, Saturday's Hawthorne Derby might have found its favorite. He is , a horse who wants to run through a wall every time he lines up in the starting gate. He raced just last Sunday in the Storm Cat at Keeneland, finishing fourth after running off with jockey Pat Day, and perhaps the quick turnaround will take the edge off Cool Conductor, whose quarter-length loss in the Grade 2 American Derby is the best race among any of the 10 horses entered in the Grade 3, $250,000 derby.

The derby is at 1 1/8 miles on grass and has lured two horses from the East Coast, Bankruptcy Court and Cockleshell. Both traveled by van, and either can win.

Cockleshell has been breezing like he means business at trainer Michael Dickinson's Tapeta Farm: On Oct. 8, he was timed in 1:13.80 for a six-furlong turf work. Bred and owned by John Chandler, Cockleshell started his career at Fair Grounds last winter, winning his first two, but was idle between January and August. Back in action at Pimlico, Cockleshell cruised to an allowance victory before finishing a troubled fourth in a minor stakes at Delaware.

Bankruptcy Court is making his stakes debut, but is not outclassed. Based in New York with trainer Rick Violette, Bankruptcy Court made his debut even later than Cockleshell, winning on dirt in his first out April 24 at Gulfstream.

"When he was 2, he cracked a cannon bone and they had to put screws in," Violette said. "I was pretty disappointed."

Violette suspected Bankruptcy Court's future was on grass, and after trying for a couple of months, Violette got him on turf Sept. 5 at Saratoga, where he won an entry-level allowance. Back 20 days later at Belmont, Bankruptcy Court made a strong run to finish a close second in a second-level allowance, and Violette said he thought Bankruptcy Court would have won with a clean trip.

"He's a nice horse," said Violette. "He's versatile, and numbers-wise he fits with anybody that's entered."

Cool Conductor's problem has been a failure to relax and save something for the stretch run.

"Anybody could gallop the horse, and when he warms up, he never gets rattled," said Ken McCarthy, who presides over trainer Bill Mott's Kentucky string. "But when he looks through that gate, he just wants to go, go, go."

Cool Conductor weighs close to 1,100 pounds, and a 115-pound jockey has no hope of holding him if he wants to motor. Jose Santos, who has never ridden Cool Conductor before, has the task of getting the horse to relax Saturday.