04/15/2005 12:00AM

Rockport Harbor will face a short field


LEXINGTON, Ky. - After the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby go into the record books this weekend, just one serious prep will remain for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. And, as usual, a handful of 3-year-olds will be trying to take the so-called backdoor route to the Derby by running in next Saturday's $325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, which will be run for the 24th time.

Easily the most noteworthy candidate for the Grade 2 Lexington is Rockport Harbor, the once-beaten colt who has been nagged by minor ailments and injuries throughout his winter-spring campaign at Oaklawn Park. As few as four other starters are expected for the 1 1/16-mile race.

Rockport Harbor is scheduled to arrive by van Sunday at Keeneland after breezing the previous morning at Oaklawn, according to trainer John Servis. The colt went through a routine gallop under exercise rider Bobby Velez on Friday morning at Oaklawn.

Primarily because Rockport Harbor has had just one race this year, a second-place finish in the March 19 Rebel Stakes, Servis tentatively has planned for the colt to work out an extra sixteenth-mile beyond the finish of the Lexington.

Probably the most formidable prospective foe for Rockport Harbor is Going Wild, who will be running back on two weeks' rest after a dismal performance in the April 9 Wood Memorial for D. Wayne Lukas. The other probable starters, with trainers, are Sort It Out, Bob Baffert; Southern Africa, Mike Puhich; and Storm Surge, Dallas Stewart.

The 2004 Lexington drew an all-time record Keeneland crowd of 31,028.

The other stakes here this week are the Doubledogdare on Wednesday, the Forerunner on Thursday, the Royal Chase steeplechase on Friday, the Stravinsky on the Lexington undercard, and the Appalachian on Sunday. All are $100,000 races except the $150,000 Royal Chase.

Ward sends horses to Arlington

For the first time in a training career of some 35 years, John T. Ward Jr. is sending a string of horses to Arlington Park. The Chicago-area track runs May 13 to Sept. 18.

"I've seen what trainers like Wayne Lukas and Kenny McPeek have done up there the last few years, so we decided to split off and send about 20 head up there," said Ward. "They've got a nice surface up there, and horses come out of there to run real well. We thought it'd fit our schedule to have a presence there this summer."

Ward said Sally Schu will oversee about 20 horses at Arlington, and 25 or so will stay behind with Ward at Keeneland. Ward said the Arlington string will consist primarily of 2-year-olds and older non-stakes horses.

Ward, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos, takes his best horses to Saratoga each summer.

Day set to begin rehab in Louisville

Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day returned to Louisville this week to begin a rehabilitation program following hip surgery in Colorado on March 30.

Day's longtime agent, Doc Danner, said Day would probably be back exercising horses a week or two before the Derby, but that the jockey did not want to push himself unnecessarily just to ride in his 22nd straight Derby. Day has an outside chance to ride Noble Causeway in the Derby.

"Pat says he won't take two steps back just to take one step forward," said Danner. "He's going to take whatever time it takes to get back to 100 percent, but he won't come back any sooner than that."

Valenzuela gets Runway Model in Oaks

Patrick Valenzuela will ride Runway Model in the May 6 Kentucky Oaks, said trainer Bernie Flint. Valenzuela's lone Oaks win came 20 years ago aboard Fran's Valentine.

Runway Model ran a distant second to Sis City in the April 9 Ashland Stakes in her last start. Sis City figures as a solid Oaks favorite.

* Caton Bredar, the longtime former anchor at Television Games Network, has begun working full time as an anchor and reporter at WAVE-TV, the NBC affiliate in Louisville. Bredar, who began her new duties early this month, is a weekend anchor for the station's morning news show and an at-large reporter during the week. As the Derby approaches, she has been concentrating primarily on racing, but eventually will cover all topics and not just racing or sports.

* Churchill has released nominations for the 14 stakes races that lead to the Derby. Counting previously released nominations for the Oaks and Woodford Reserve, a total of 815 horses were nominated to those races.

The Derby week stakes schedule starts with the $100,000 Derby Trial on opening day, April 30. Complete listings are available on churchilldowns.com.

* Keeneland has begun displaying will-pay prices for the pick six before the last race every day. The track began the practice last fall but "we had some things to work out and weren't able to get it done every day," said G.D. Hieronymus, director of broadcast services. "It's something that serious players wanted, and we're happy to accommodate them."