11/24/2006 12:00AM

Tagg, Showing Up do it their way

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Barclay Tagg is not easily impressed, nor is he moved by public sentiment. After all, this is the same guy who took one look at the hype engulfing the week leading up to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and said no thanks, waiting until the day before the race to bring his contender to town. Funny Cide won, then was on a plane for home early the next morning.

This year, back in September, Tagg was being told by everyone with a laptop or a cell phone that he had two legitimate candidates for the looming Breeders' Cup races at Churchill Downs. He listened and smiled politely - up to a point - and then kept them both at home safely in New York, where they seem to have suffered no ill effects from missing the Cup.

It has come time, though, for Tagg to pull the trigger, first with Nobiz Like Shobiz, who was scheduled to run in Saturday's Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, and then with Showing Up, who runs on Sunday in the $500,000 Hollywood Derby.

When it comes to Showing Up, Tagg is impressed. Certainly, his record of 6 wins in 8 starts speaks for itself, especially when his only losses came in a rough Kentucky Derby - he was sixth in only the fourth start of his career - and in the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont, when he was third behind older runners Cacique and Go Deputy.

"He's a great little horse," Tagg said Friday morning from New York. "I'm amazed by him every time I run him. For some reason I never expect it of him, and he runs great every time. He's good looking - that's why I bought him - but he's not a great big horse. To me, he doesn't have that big, graceful way of moving that some of the really good horses have. But he can run like the devil, and he likes to do it."

After Showing Up won the Jamaica Handicap, on Oct. 14 at Belmont, Tagg was left shaking his head. Showing Up appeared to be spinning his wheels in the upper stretch, while being asked to give nine pounds to most of the opposition.

"Rick Violette's horse [Outperformance] came up to him rather easily that day," Tagg said. "It looked like he just glanced over, flattened out, and took off again." And won by 3 1/2 lengths.

The Hollywood Derby will be his toughest test, at least on the grass against his own age division. Not only is Showing Up shipping farther than ever before, he will encounter a group in good form. Among his opposition is Crested, who just missed in the Hawthorne Derby; Dark Islander, winner of the Oak Tree Derby in his American debut; and Brother Derek, the Santa Anita Derby winner, who is making his first start on turf.

While assistant Robin Smullen cares for Showing Up at Hollywood, Tagg will do the honors for Nobiz Like Shobiz on Saturday afternoon, then hop a plane for Los Angeles early Sunday. It has been 15 years since he attended Hollywood Park in an official capacity, and he hopes to pick up where he left off.

The last horse he recalls running on the Hollywood grass was Miss Josh, a fiery, brick wall of a mare who won 14 of 29 races spanning the spring of 1989 to the fall of 1991. The first time Tagg sent Miss Josh West was for the 1990 version of the Matriarch, run that year on Dec. 2.

"I'm getting old," Tagg said, "but wasn't that the race she got away from Jorgie Velasquez a little bit and got beat about three lengths?"

Nothing wrong with Tagg's 68-year-old memory. Going off at odds of 21-1, Miss Josh pulled Velasquez through three-quarters on the lead in 1:09 and change, merrily on their way to a mile in 1:33.80 before giving way to finish sixth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths. The victorious Countus In owed at least a nod to Miss Josh for helping set the 1 1/8-mile stakes record.

For some reason, Tagg recalls perfectly the second time he brought Miss Josh to California, probably because there was a winner's circle involved. The date was June 29, 1991, for the prestigious Gamely Handicap.

"She was a really bad-footed filly," Tagg said. "The day she won the Gamely, the owners had about 40 people there, and they're all taking a lot of money out of the windows, laughing and having a good time. Then Laffit rides up with a stone face and tells me, 'Don't ever run her on this turf course again.'

"And he was right," Tagg said. "When I got back to the test barn, she was standing there spraddle-legged, her feet hurt so bad. They finally took blood and urine, we gave her a shot of Bute, and I let her stand there for another hour before I could get her back to the barn. But you know, I think she came right back to win her next race."

She did. It was the Matchmaker Stakes, one month later at Atlantic City.

"She was one of the most competitive horses I've ever seen," Tagg said, only now he is saying the same thing about Showing Up.