03/16/2006 12:00AM

Showtime is here for Private Vow

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Private Vow showed as much ability as any 2-year-old last year when he won Grade 2 races around both one turn and two: the Futurity at Belmont Park and the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs.

He is ranked highly among the prospects for this year's Kentucky Derby, and on Saturday he will make his long-awaited seasonal debut in the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

The 1 1/16-mile Rebel is the first of two starts that Private Vow will make before the Kentucky Derby. He is also here for the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 15.

is starting his season later than other top Kentucky Derby prospects because he raced later last season than originally planed. He was supposed to make his final start of the year in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 29, but his rein broke on the backstretch of the race. Private Vow's connections, trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Mike McCarty, decided to keep him in training, and he was pointed for the Kentucky Jockey Club, which he won by 2 1/4 lengths in his last start, on Nov. 26.

"Truth be told, I don't think I could have sat on him with that being his last race of the year," Asmussen said of the Breeders' Cup. "There wasn't a doubt that I was going to run him back, and then you look up and you've got another graded-stakes win with him, and it's two turns and at Churchill. So after the fact, there's a lot of positives."

Private Vow was dominant at 2. After finishing a fast-closing second to eventual Grade 3 winner Sorcerer's Stone in a maiden race at Churchill Downs, he won his maiden going wire to wire at Saratoga on July 30, drawing clear by 2 1/4 lengths.

One start later, Private Vow led throughout to win an entry-level allowance at Saratoga by 5 1/2 lengths in an effort that sent him to the Futurity as the odds-on favorite. He did not disappoint, rolling to an overwhelming nine-length win in the seven-furlong race and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 94. All three of the wins came under now-retired Hall of Fame rider Jerry Bailey.

"I always thought he was very talented," said Bailey. "Obviously, he had an unfair chance in the Breeders' Cup. He showed great courage that he came back and won at Churchill."

Private Vow, who will be ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan in the Rebel, has done all of his major prep work for the race at Palm Meadows in south Florida. Asmussen chose the Arkansas route to Kentucky for several reasons, one of which was that he wanted to start the colt where he left off, in a two-turn race at 1 1/16 miles, a configuration not available at Gulfstream Park in Florida.

"The Tampa Bay Derby I thought was a possibility," said Asmussen. "But if we bring him here, it's one move, both races at one track, then on to Churchill. If we'd have run him at Tampa, then we'd probably have been thinking Wood. That would have been another trip, one more different track, a few more variables that I didn't want to do. Timingwise I thought those were good races, but the fact that it made us move one more time made us come here."

Private Vow's preparation for his 3-year-old season has included lessons in rating, which he has been getting while working in company at Palm Meadows.

"He's got super acceleration, but you've got to temper it," said Asmussen. "He's used to using it from close range, and I want him to just relax to get to them. We've backed him off of [company] a little further every week, just a little bit, and he relaxes when he's comfortable with where they're at, which has been within a length and a half of them."

McCarty, who owns a construction company in Austin, Texas, purchased Private Vow as a 2-year-old in training for $185,000 last April at Keeneland. Private Vow is a son of Broken Vow, a Grade 2 winner by Unbridled, and he is out of the winning Deputy Minister mare Smooth as Silk. At 2, Private Vow won 4 of 6 starts and $382,508.

Saturday, he jumps on the Derby trail. The waiting is over.