01/27/2006 1:00AM

Stevie becomes Griffin's latest hit

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For all the success that entertainer and producer Merv Griffin has enjoyed in his career, few things paralleled the thrill he got on the early afternoon of Oct. 29 at Belmont Park.

On that raw autumn day, Griffin, a horse owner for two decades, watched his chestnut colt Stevie Wonderboy power down the center of Belmont's main track to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile by 1 1/4 lengths over Henny Hughes.

In the post-race press conference, Griffin, a 15-time Emmy Award winner, burst into song. Of course, the tune was "My Old Kentucky Home."

Griffin, 80, is the producer of the highly successful game shows "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy." He also had the No. 1 hit song of 1950 with "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," which sold 3 million copies.

"The Emmys are wonderful - there's nothing to match the winner's circle," said Griffin, who owns Griffin Ranch in La Quinta, Calif.

Stevie Wonderboy's victory in the Juvenile was his third win from five starts in 2005 and propelled him to the Eclipse Award as the top juvenile colt in North America. In becoming the 18th Juvenile winner to win the Eclipse Award, Stevie Wonderboy received 230 of 259 votes cast. There were three abstentions.

, bred by John Gunther, Tony Holmes, and Walter Zent, entered 2006 as one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby. A son of Stephen Got Even out of the Summer Squall mare Heat Lightning, Stevie Wonderboy sold for $100,000 at the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-olds in training sales in February. Dennis O'Neill helped pick out Stevie Wonderboy, and Stevie Wonderboy was sent to O'Neill's brother Doug in Southern California to train.

Stevie Wonderboy made his debut June 18 at Hollywood Park, where he finished second behind What a Song, a Songandaprayer colt who had been a $1.9 million auction purchase. Stevie Wonderboy made his second career start in the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship where he was third to What a Song.

Stevie Wonderboy won his maiden at Del Mar by four lengths on Aug. 7, and a month later he romped to an eye-catching five-length victory in the Del Mar Futurity. In that race, Stevie Wonderboy was floated extremely wide for the stretch drive, but his closing kick had Griffin believing he had another Secretariat.

Griffin and Doug O'Neill made the decision to skip a traditional prep race for Stevie Wonderboy, electing to run him in the Juvenile off a 52-day layoff.

"Both Merv and I are thinking down the road about the classics next spring," O'Neill said the day he decided to keep Stevie Wonderboy out of an expected start in the Norfolk Stakes. "Racing every three or four weeks as a 2-year-old could hinder that."

Any thoughts that the layoff would be detrimental were erased the Monday before the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, when Stevie Wonderboy worked a sensational half-mile in 46 seconds at Belmont, the fastest of 137 works at the distance that day.

He unleashed a powerful half-mile kick under Garrett Gomez in the Juvenile, carrying him past Henny Hughes and into the role as early favorite for the 2006 Kentucky Derby.

Stevie Wonderboy finished second behind Brother Derek in the San Rafael Stakes on Jan. 13. He is scheduled to run next in the Santa Catalina on March 4.