04/04/2005 11:00PM

So long, Santa Anita

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has selected far-flung Derby preps for Going Wild (center) and Consolidator.

Going Wild came into the current Santa Anita meeting winless in three starts, with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 72. Beginning on Dec. 26, though, he transformed into a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender for trainer D. Wayne Lukas by capturing three consecutive races before finishing second to Declan's Moon in the Santa Catalina Stakes.

With his fondness for the track and sharp early speed, Going Wild seemingly was a perfect fit for the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on Saturday. And if Lukas did not want to run Going Wild there, surely he would go with Consolidator, who won Santa Anita's San Felipe Stakes and has a similar front-running style.

But Lukas never has been one for conventional wisdom. Both Consolidator and Going Wild left California to train at Churchill Downs for their final . For Consolidator, Lukas said it was a matter of timing. He wanted to give Consolidator four weeks between the San Felipe and his final Derby prep, and since Consolidator won Keeneland's Breeders' Futurity last fall, an obvious choice became the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 16.

"And I like the idea of that race being just down the road," Lukas said from Churchill Downs. "It was an easy decision."

For Going Wild, Lukas decided to keep heading east. He chose this Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, a track on which Going Wild has never set foot.

"I made a master plan earlier, and I just decided to stick with it," Lukas said. "He's run good races at Santa Anita. I'm interested in seeing how he handles new surfaces. I'm interested in seeing how he handles a deeper track. And it's an easy ship to New York and back."

Going Wild was scheduled to travel from Kentucky to New York on Thursday. He will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.

The Wood for years was only two weeks before the Derby, then was moved to three weeks out, and this year is four weeks out. The spacing, Lukas said, works for Going Wild, who last raced March 5.

"It's right in the middle. It's a little more than a month since his last race, and almost a month to the Derby," Lukas said. "He'd probably handle three weeks if we had decided to go to the Arkansas Derby, but we have a presence in New York year-round, and thought this was the right thing to do."

The Wood field is also expected to include Bellamy Road, Galloping Grocer, Naughty New Yorker, Pavo, Scrappy T, and Survivalist, who won last month's Gotham Stakes, the final major prep for the Wood.

Lukas, 69, has won the Derby four times. He said he didn't need to go to Churchill Downs to get Derby Fever.

"Hell, I get excited in January," Lukas said. "I don't have to see the twin spires to get excited. I get up for our marquee events. I feel we're coming into this in great shape."

Going Wild has never run a poor race. He has finished in the money in all seven of his races, and owns three victories, including the Sham Stakes and the San Miguel Stakes, in which he got a Beyer Figure of 104. A son of Golden Missile, Going Wild was a $600,000 yearling purchase by Bob and Beverly Lewis, who also own Consolidator.

"He's a warrior," Lukas said of Going Wild. "He's a bulldog. He carries a lot of weight. If you were in a street fight, you'd want him. He's kind of blue-collar. He shows up every time. He's tough, not delicate. He's one of those type that meets you at the door every morning and says, 'Let's do it again.' He's very competitive."

That competitive spirit was evident even in defeat in the Santa Catalina. Going Wild was beaten only two lengths by Declan's Moon while finishing three lengths in front of third-place finisher Spanish Chestnut, who was ridden by Gary Stevens.

"He didn't get away very well, which was a surprise, because he's a good gate horse," Lukas said. "Then he was down on the inside on a track that was drying out. Gary Stevens saw me after the race and told me my horse had run a hell of a race. He said he got off the inside with Spanish Chestnut and let me have it because it was deep and tiring."

Since then, Going Wild has trained sharply, and Lukas was thrilled with a weekend workout that was the final drill for the Wood.

"I look for a better effort in the Wood," Lukas said. "Hell, if I'm doing my job, he should be better."