11/13/2002 12:00AM

Sky Mesa hits Derby trail soon


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The undefeated Sky Mesa, with a clean bill of health after the setback that forced him to miss the Breeders' Cup, leaves in about three weeks for Florida and a campaign designed to prepare him for the spring classics.

Winner of the Hopeful at Saratoga and the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, Sky Mesa was the probable favorite for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile when he sprained an ankle on a sloppy track two days before the race.

Fortunately, there was no bone damage, and in retrospect his people seem to feel that the incident has two sides.

"We were disappointed to miss the Juvenile because he was coming up strong," trainer John Ward Jr. said from his headquarters in Lexington, Ky. "But Vindication ran a big race to win, getting his first six furlongs in 1:09.80. Had they competed at Arlington, they might have run each other into the ground and harmed their chances of becoming top 3-year-olds."

Ward, who saddled John Oxley's Monarchos to win the 2001 Kentucky Derby is quietly confident he has another first-class prospect for Oxley in the Pulpit colt Sky Mesa, a $750,000 purchase at the Keeneland fall yearling sales. He not only won his three starts, he slammed them, winning by a combined margin of almost 14 lengths.

"We'll be at Palm Beach Downs again this winter with our better 3-year-olds," Ward said. "It is an excellent training facility. Sky Mesa should go back under tack about Dec. 15.

"Sky Mesa has had enough racing experience that he won't need an extended campaign. Two races in Florida should be enough, and one more race someplace else should get him to the Derby."

Calder's marketing spree goes on

Calder has had considerable success by packaging stakes into a series of special events. The track's Summit of Speed program this summer attracted outstanding sprinters from all parts of the country and was equally well received by the public.

The latest illustration of this concept will be introduced on Saturday. It consists of a package of six stakes for Florida-bred horses with a total purse of a million dollars and is being presented as the Florida Million.

The Calder people, seeking to put a Florida flavor on the day, have scheduled a series of related events, including mini-concerts, dance presentations, a demonstration of game fishing, a golfing exhibition, a showcase of Indian arts and crafts, and other activities associated with Florida.

The stakes, for 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and older horses, have been named for such popular Florida breeders as Joe O'Farrell, Jack Price, Bonnie Heath, Jack Dudley, Carl Rose, and Elmer Huebeck.

The imaginative Calder management is also planning another new promotion, a series of days honoring the great jockeys of the American racing scene. The first phase of this promotion will be dedicated to Laffit Pincay Jr., the world's leading jockey with more than 9,000 winners to his credit. Pincay, who leads all California jockeys this season at age 55, will ride here as part of the celebration on Dec. 18.

Calder will give away a special Pincay bobblehead doll as part of the program and has scheduled an autograph session for the jockey. A special poster honoring Pincay will also be distributed in connection with the autograph session.