03/13/2002 1:00AM

Saratoga Blues takes Derby trail detour


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Though it is mid-March and he has an undefeated 3-year-old in his barn, trainer Tony Dutrow does not have a case of Derby fever.

Dutrow said on Wednesday that Saratoga Blues will skip Sunday's $200,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct and will not be pointed to the Kentucky Derby on May 4. Instead, Saratoga Blues will make his next start in the $500,000 Lane's End Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on March 23 and may be pointed to the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 18.

"All of us are in this game for a bit of a dream, but, come on, you have to be realistic," Dutrow said. "Our horse has run only three times and only once this year. If we're that good we can find an ideal way to get to the Preakness. But, I really feel we're playing catch-up trying to get to the Derby."

Dutrow said he and owner Alvin Akman decided to skip the Gotham and point to the Spiral in order to keep Saratoga Blues racing around two turns. All three of Saratoga Blues's starts - including a two-length victory in the Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct on Feb. 9 - have been around two turns.

"He's a two-turn horse," Dutrow said. "I don't think you're making progress if you're going one turn."

With Saratoga Blues out of the Gotham, the Grade 2 race run at one mile is likely to attract a field of six when entries are drawn Friday. With jockey assignments, the field figures as follows: Saarland (John Velazquez), Mayakovsky (Edgar Prado), Parade of Music (Richard Migliore), Tank's Expectation (Aaron Gryder), and Two Shakes (Mike Luzzi).

The Gotham will be televised live on ESPN2 (4-5 p.m. Eastern).

Wrangler, Affirmed Success: Round 2

When Wrangler defeated Affirmed Success in last month's General George Handicap at Laurel Park, he had a six-pound advantage. Saturday, when the two meet in the $100,000 Toboggan Handicap they will both be carrying 119 pounds around Aqueduct's main track.

A small field is expected for the Toboggan, run at seven furlongs. Others expected to run include Vodka (113), King's Messenger (112) and Run Kush Run (112). Possibles include Kashatreya (112), Voodoo (112), and Multiple Choice (111).

The General George victory was the third straight win for Wrangler, and sixth in his last eight starts, including a 3-for-3 mark under trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Wrangler has earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in seven of his last eight starts.

Traditionally retired

Traditionally, winner of the Grade 1 Oaklawn Handicap last April, has been retired and will likely stand at stud at Bally Linch Stud Farm in Ireland, according to trainer Shug McGaughey.

McGaughey said representatives from Bally Linch have vetted Traditionally and are awaiting only the results of tests for Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM), a highly transmissible venereal disease of horses.

Traditionally is a son of Mr. Prospector out of the undefeated champion mare, Personal Ensign. Traditionally had a record of 5-1-2 from 20 starts and earnings of $495,660.

Though he retires a Grade 1 winner, Traditionally never quite lived up to his breeding. In seven other attempts in graded stakes, Traditionally did not finish higher than fifth. Traditionally had a problem with running down, or burning his back heels, which may have contributed to his enigmatic career. In two starts this year, Traditionally finished sixth in the Skip Away Handicap and 11th in the Donn Handicap, both at Gulfstream Park.

"I think there was something the matter with him in his back right leg where he ran down," McGaughey said. "He finally said the heck with it."

Volponi begins 2002 preparations

Volponi, winner of the Pegasus Handicap last fall at The Meadowlands, worked three furlongs in 39.72 seconds Wednesday at Belmont as he continues preparations for his 4-year-old debut. It was Volponi's second workout in five days. Last Saturday, he breezed three furlongs in 38.04 seconds.

Trainer Phil Johnson said he is pointing Volponi to the Belmont spring meet but has not yet determined whether his future will be on turf or dirt. Volponi, a son of Cryptoclearance, is a stakes winner on both surfaces.

"We're looking at opening day or opening week at Belmont [as] about the time he'll be ready," Johnson said. "He's training good. He's been jogging all winter, and he's galloped a lot."

Volponi stayed with Johnson all winter, many mornings jogging 2 1/2 to 3 miles in the shed. Johnson said Volponi has filled out some from age 3 to 4. "He hasn't got heavier, but he's muscled out," Johnson said. "I think that's a trait of late-developing horses like Cryptoclearance."

Meanwhile, Johnson said that She's Got the Beat, a New York-bred 3-year-old filly who has won three races in a row, will not run in the Cicada on March 23.

"We'll try to give her more experience," Johnson said. "We'll try to work her up to a real distance."

Belle Artiste aims for fourth straight

Belle Artiste, who has reeled off three straight wins at generous odds, will likely offer little value on Friday when she tries to make it four in a row, in a third-level allowance heat at seven furlongs.

Belle Artiste stamped herself as a come-from-behind sprinter at Saratoga when, after stumbling at the start, she rallied from 20 lengths back to win a six-furlong race by three-quarters of a length. She came back to win a preliminary allowance race at Belmont on Sept. 23, but came out of the race with an eye injury. She returned to win a second-level allowance race at Gulfstream on Jan. 30.

Belle Artiste should get good pace in which to close, but will have to outfinish another streaking filly, True Rose. True Rose reeled off two consecutive wins to end the inner track season, but also owns a win over the main track. True Rose may benefit from her outside post in this 10-horse field.

* Hattab Be You, a half-brother to 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull, won his maiden in Wednesday's first race and returned $76.50 as the longest shot in the eight-horse field. In his previous six starts, Hattab Be You had lost by an average of 19 lengths.