04/16/2002 11:00PM

Red Masque scores for Hutt

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Danny Hutt thought he might have had a starter for the 128th Kentucky Derby in Bunk N Ted. But when that colt came up with a quarter crack "and a couple of other little problems," Hutt no longer had a Derby horse.

Hold that thought - if only for a moment. Red Masque, a Red Ransom colt Hutt trains for Real Deal Racing, will "absolutely go to the Derby if we can get in" after upsetting five other 3-year-olds, including heavily favored Royal Gem, in the $111,000 Forerunner Stakes at Keeneland on Wednesday.

"If we make the earnings list, we're running," said Hutt, a Louisville resident whose only previous Derby starter, Celtic Warrior, was badly beaten as a 1997 longshot.

Unfortunately for Hutt, with the Forerunner, a 1 1/8-mile turf race, being ungraded - and Red Masque not having any previous graded earnings - it appears doubtful that Red Masque will make the May 4 Derby, unless the huge list of Derby hopefuls dwindles over the next two weeks or so.

In any case, Hutt was ecstatic Wednesday. Red Masque, ridden by Jerry Bailey, went up to press the leaders entering the far turn of the Forerunner, taking over for Mystic Salse before going on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over No More Chads.

Royal Gem, previously unbeaten in two starts for Bobby Frankel and the 2-5 favorite, was never a serious threat. He made a mild rally to finish third by another 1 1/4 lengths. Red Masque paid $12.40 after finishing in 1:49.15 over firm turf.