04/18/2005 11:00PM

Rockport Harbor wows, or bows out

Rockport Harbor, at Keeneland Monday with trainer John Servis, gets one last chance to make the Kentucky Derby in the Lexington Stakes.

He has the same trainer, the same jockey, even an owner who is a car dealer from the Philadelphia area. The similarities between Smarty Jones and Rockport Harbor were obvious. And after winning all four of his starts last year, Rockport Harbor looked like he also had the talent to follow in the footsteps of Smarty Jones.

He still might. But whereas Smarty Jones had a largely trouble-free season preparing for his victory in last year's Kentucky Derby, very little has gone right for Rockport Harbor this year. Foot injuries and a freak blood clot in his neck have conspired to restrict Rockport Harbor to one race so far this year. And even that went awry, with Rockport Harbor bobbling at the start, rushing up, and losing narrowly in the Rebel Stakes.

With the pages of the calendar whipping past, Rockport Harbor has only one last chance to make the May 7 Derby. He is scheduled to run in the Grade 2, $325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland, where his owner and trainer say nothing short of an outstanding performance will be required to move on.

"If I'm not happy with his performance, off two preps, with one close to the Derby, we're not going to do it," said John Servis, who trains Rockport Harbor. "Would I love to win the Derby again? Absolutely. I think he's an exceptional horse. But if I'm not 100 percent convinced he should go on, we'll map out a new plan. He's going to be an exceptional horse, either on May 7, or later on."

There is every indication, though, that Rockport Harbor has finally put all his problems behind him. His neck is fine. And his troublesome right rear hoof, which first was injured in last fall's Remsen Stakes, has held up well, Servis said, since ace blacksmith Ian McKinlay came to Arkansas from New Jersey and worked on the foot after the Rebel. Servis and owner Rick Porter are crossing their fingers that the hard part is in the past.

"It's been, pardon the pun, a rocky road," Porter said while joined by Servis on a teleconference Tuesday. "Just when we think we're on the right track, John would call and say something else had popped up."

On Saturday, Porter said he, Servis, and jockey Stewart Elliott "are looking for him to win, gallop out good, show he can go a mile and a quarter, and come out of the race good."

"It's just that something seems to happen whenever we get rolling," Porter added.

Porter has been a client of Servis's for nearly a dozen years. But it was a newer client, Roy Chapman, whose homebred Smarty Jones brought Servis his first Derby victory last year. Two months before Smarty Jones made his 2-year-old debut, Porter bought Rockport Harbor as a yearling in September 2003 for $470,000. From the start, Servis thought he had top-class ability.

"Early on, I thought he had the potential to be a Smarty Jones," Servis said.

They are very different colts, though. Rockport Harbor is a tall, strapping colt, who would tower over Smarty Jones.

"Around the barn, Smarty was high energy," Servis said. "He would kick at people, but he'd rarely bite. Rocky is the opposite. He won't kick, but he'll bite you in a second. When Smarty got on the racetrack in the morning, he would gear up and want to go. Rocky goes up there very laid back."

They have different strides, too. Smarty Jones would scoot along with quick strides, then accelerate. But Rockport Harbor, as Servis said, "has a huge stride and the ability to run along at a very fast pace, and subsequently runs horses into the ground."

In other Derby developments Tuesday:

* Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko, who most recently finished third in the Santa Anita Derby, worked a sharp five furlongs in 59.80 seconds at Hollywood Park. He went along so easily that clockers designated the move breezing, a rarity in California. The time equaled the second-best of 32 at the distance.

"Everything went real well," said Craig Dollase, who trains Wilko. "He's on edge. I'm starting to get Derby fever."

Like Rockport Harbor, Wilko has been troubled by foot problems this year. He has quarter crack patches on both his front hooves. Dollase said Wilko's feet looked good after the workout, and he said the colt continues to move forward with his training.

"We've been playing a little catch-up with the wet weather and the quarter cracks, but I'm pretty pleased where we're at," Dollase said.

Dollase said Wilko was scheduled to be flown to Kentucky on Thursday. "He'll have two more works at Churchill," Dollase said.

Dollase has yet to commit to a rider. One possibility is Frankie Dettori, who became available when Blues and Royals was removed from Derby consideration on Monday. Dettori rode Wilko in the Breeders' Cup and the Santa Anita Derby. His status for the Derby will depend on whether Godolphin Racing, for whom Dettori is under contract in Great Britain, frees him from any potential commitments in the U.K. on May 7. "We're going to see how the Frankie thing plays itself out," Dollase said.

* Wild Desert, who finished eighth in the Arkansas Derby, has been transferred to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. from Ken McPeek by owner Dan Borislow. "Rick will evaluate him this week," Borislow said. "Whether we run in the Derby is up to him."

3-year-old graded stakes earnings

The leading contenders for the 131st Kentucky Derby based on earnings in graded stakes races, the tiebreaker if the field exceeds the maximum 20 entries:

1 Afleet Alex $1,245,000
2 Wilko 1,004,515
3 High Fly 796,500
4 Consolidator 632,250
5 Bellamy Road570,000
6 Bandini525,000
7High Limit510,000
8Flower Alley500,000
9 Buzzards Bay480,000
10Sun King402,500
11Greater Good391,344
13Rockport Harbor 235,700
14Noble Causeway190,000
16Storm Surge182,640
17Closing Argument165,000
18General John B150,000
19Wild Desert 131,320
20Spanish Chesnut124,000
21Andromeda's Hero115,000
22Actxecutive 51,280
23Going Wild 47,500
24Southern Africa32,790
25Sort It Out 0
26Greeley's Galaxy *300,000

* - not nominated to Triple Crown