06/18/2003 11:00PM

Rich talent in Ohio Derby gate

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NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - The Ohio Derby has produced six winners who have gone on to capture million-dollar races. The most recent is Milwaukee Brew, who won the Ohio Derby in 2000 and then won the 2002 Santa Anita Handicap.

This year, the Grade 2, $300,000 Ohio Derby has the potential to add to that list as several members of the seven-horse field appear capable of earning their way into important races later this year. Wild and Wicked and Midway Road figure to vie for favoritism in the Ohio Derby while Private City and Crowned King cannot be discounted.

Wild and Wicked is 2 for 2 for trainer Ken McPeek, who last year developed the 3-year-olds Harlan's Holiday, Repent, and Belmont Stakes winner Sarava.

Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens trains Private City, the only horse in the field to have won at the Ohio Derby's 1 1/8-mile distance - a feat that Private City accomplished in his most recent race, against older horses at Belmont Park.

Midway Road ran the best race of his career last time out, when he finished second to Funny Cide in the Preakness for trainer Neil Howard.

"He was on the small side at 2 and had some throat problems," Howard said, "but he's now filled out and seemingly coming to hand."

Crowned King has won two stakes this year for trainer Billy McKeever - the USA Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on turf at Lone Star Park and the Rebel Stakes at the same distance on dirt at Oaklawn. With Chandra Rennie aboard, Crowned King will carry 121 pounds under the allowance conditions of the Ohio Derby. The five other colts in the field will carry 112 while the lone filly, Miss Karry Thenews, will carry 107.

Wild and Wicked and Shane Sellers are expected to set the Ohio Derby pace, but they may have company from Hackendiffy, who has won five Ohio-bred stakes and is a half-brother to multiple stakes winner USS Tinosa.

Private City also has displayed enough speed to allow his rider, Jean-Luc Samyn, to be with the pace or close to it.

Midway Road has tactical speed but will likely be several lengths back early under Robby Albarado while Crowned King likes to settle into stride before doing his best running.

* On the undercard, the Luis Palacio-trained entry of Whitewater Way and Orange-berry will be favored in the $50,000 J. William Petro Memorial Handicap.