11/01/2001 1:00AM

'Taylor' eyes Carey repeat


STICKNEY, Ill. - A length here, a neck there, and Where's Taylor would be hailed as one of the best middle-distance turf horses in the country. What Where's Taylor has accomplished - eight wins and a $613,000 bankroll - is nothing to scoff at. But surely his connections can almost taste what might have been.

Owner Barry Golden made a nice score when he bought Where's Taylor, a Florida-bred with a modest pedigree and race record, during the early part of 2000, but consider how many tough defeats the gelding has suffered in graded stakes races since then: He has been second in the Explosive Bid, New Hampshire Sweepstakes, Firecracker Breeders' Cup, and Shadwell Turf Mile, and third in the Arlington Handicap and the Meadowlands Cup. Put a few of those races in the win category and his reputation would swell.

In fact, Where's Taylor has won only one graded stakes race, the Grade 3 Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap, and on Saturday he returns to Hawthorne to defend his crown, a year older but probably as good as he has ever been.

Where's Taylor makes his first start for trainer Hilary Pridham, who launched her career as head trainer last week. Pridham, who won with her first starter on Arlington's closing day, had been chief assistant for trainer Mike Stidham, Where's Taylor's former trainer, and earlier in her career was an assistant to Noel Hickey. During that time, when horses occasionally ran in her name, Pridham became acquainted with Golden.

Already, she has the favorite in a graded stakes. Where's Taylor, who drew post 1 and will be ridden by Corey Lanerie, is at his best distance, a mile. Many of the tough beats Where's Taylor has suffered have come at distances slightly beyond his scope.

None of his nine rivals can match his speed, and provided he sets a sensible pace, Where's Taylor will be a formidable target. In last year's Carey - and in the Sun Beau Stakes here in June - Where's Taylor led from gate to wire, a scenario that seems probable again.

Langston, Good Journey, and the poorly drawn Conserve provide the main competition. Langston has won four of seven turf starts this year and comes off an overnight stakes win at Arlington. He has tried graded stakes company only once, finishing second in the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes at Arlington.

Good Journey ships in from Southern California for trainer Wally Dollase. Conserve, who breaks from post 10, comes out of a sharp allowance score at Keeneland.

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