04/24/2003 12:00AM

Sir Cherokee disappointing no more

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Where do Kentucky Derby winners originate? From everywhere and under all manner of circumstance. Win the Derby with a $1,200 yearling? Preposterous, but it happened and Canonero II was a popular classicist, adding the Preakness to his laurels but coming acropper in the Belmont.

Carry Back's breeder, Jack Price, was forced to take his dam, Joppy, in lieu of an $800 board bill. The remarkable Carry Back not only won the Derby but also the Preakness. But a wind puff compromised his performance in the Belmont. Arthur Hancock had all sorts of problems with Sunday Silence, elected to race him with a few partners, and added a Kentucky Derby and a Preakness to his list of cherished souvenirs.

Can a horse win the Derby who was dismissed at 55-1 in a second-level prep race that he won with a flourish after disappointing his interests greatly in a previous appearance?

"Yes," says trainer Mike Tomlinson, who has been optimistic about the chances of Domino Stud's Sir Cherokee since the Cherokee Run colt upset the recent Arkansas Derby to pay $113.20.

"His performance in the Arkansas Derby was outstanding and we feel we have a horse whose style of a strong finish is ideal for Churchill Downs," he said. "He is dependent on a brisk, honest pace but the Derby is a race that usually attracts fast 3-year-olds. If he gets his pace and runs his race it won't matter that he was an unknown until two weeks ago or came to the Derby via some route other than New York or California."

Sir Cherokee, a 16-2 hands bay colt with three white stockings and a blaze face, was bred by owner Kenneth Jones, who makes his home on Guam. A seabee who served on Guam during World War II, Jones returned to the island after the war and played a major role in Guam's development with his construction company. A keen racing fan, he raced a stable in Australia before launching an American stable a few years ago. He also operates Domino Farm in Lexington, Ky.

Jones has raced some useful horses but never one with Sir Cherokee's potential. He won his maiden at Churchill Downs on a sloppy track last fall, going a distance and finishing full of run. He also closed strongly in the subsequent Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, then was freshened for a classic campaign. After an auspicious 3-year-old debut that he won in signature fashion, he ran in the Southwest Stakes at a mile, despite the race's distance playing into his weaknesses. His people felt he needed the seasoning and were not concerned about his fourth-place finish, They were concerned, however, when he ran out of the money in the longer Rebel.

"We were really disappointed," trainer Mike Tomlinson said. "He ran an upside-down race. He usually settles in stride and makes a big run late. In the Rebel, he was up with the early leaders and had no punch for the drive. We thought of backing away from the Triple Crown trail but decided to give him one more chance to do it his way in the Arkansas Derby."

With a new rider, Terry Thompson, in the irons, Sir Cherokee turned the Arkansas Derby into a victory parade, despite the lack of support. Coming from last place in a field of 12 under confident handling by Thompson, he circled the field six wide and scored by almost two lengths going away.

It was the kind of effort that has long been fruitful in the Derby, despite the moderate quality of the field. Horsemen know the knockout punch is often the way to get the roses.