04/15/2004 12:00AM

Tickets to Derby still available

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Boomzeeboom is one of 15 entrants for the $325,000 Lexington. The winner will earn enough to start in the Derby.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - It seems altogether fitting that in a year in which the Kentucky Derby outlook could scarcely get more confusing, the final major Derby prep looks just as bad.

Or good, as it were. A full field that promises a bounty of lucrative wagering opportunities is set for the $325,000 , the 1 1/16-mile race that should help finalize the composition of the field for the May 1 Derby.

The connections of roughly half of the 3-year-olds entered in the Grade 2 Lexington have said they would gladly proceed to Churchill Downs if their horse wins Saturday, whereas the rest have said they are inclined to take a pass, even in the case of a huge effort. Those pre-race comments have injected even more variables into an amazingly chaotic Derby picture, although, thankfully, a clearer focus should result in the Lexington aftermath.

Fifteen horses are entered in the Lexington, although only 14 can start; the lone also-eligible, New Element, will be allowed to run if there are any scratches by 9 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. Favoritism is up for grabs among a handful of horses, most notably Song of the Sword, Fire Slam, Boomzeeboom, and Quintons Gold Rush.

The purse breakdown for the Lexington is $201,500 for first, $65,000 for second, and $32,500 for third. The winner will earn enough to start in the Derby - graded earnings determine which 20 horses can run - but the splits for lesser placings may not be sufficient to crack the top 20 list, depending on previous graded earnings. That tenuous situation gives this 23rd running of the Lexington more importance than usual.

"We'd love to see our horse show he belongs in the Derby," said George Weaver, trainer of Saratoga County, one of many horses currently on the Derby earnings bubble. "If he can't, we still have a real nice horse."

If Saratoga County is to prevail Saturday, he will have to overcome a substantial disadvantage: He drew post 14 in a race that shapes up as a fascinating tactical puzzle. Quite a few of the Lexington starters have demonstrated a pattern of showing early speed, including Tiger Heart, Pomeroy, Boomzeeboom, and Quintons Gold Rush, whereas another five or six starters have shown the ability to lay close to the pace.

One of those likely pace stalkers is Fire Slam, whose trainer, David Carroll, said he is not committed to running back in the Derby, regardless of the Lexington outcome. Citing pedigree and other factors, Carroll, like several other trainers, said he just wants to get through the Lexington before making any other decisions.

"We're trying to see if we can go two turns with some very nice horses," said Carroll.

Another Lexington contender without definite Derby designs is Pomeroy, who most recently ran second to Saratoga County in the March 20 Gotham at Aqueduct.

"We already have the other horse in," said trainer Patrick Biancone, referring to Lion Heart. Biancone trains both colts for Michael Tabor.

The Lexington will be televised on ESPN2 on tape delay Saturday. The one-hour show starts at 6 p.m. Eastern and also includes a replay of the Tesio Stakes from Pimlico, a race that drew eight entries, none of them Derby prospects. Actual post time for the Lexington is 5:15.

Read the Footnotes stays sharp

Read the Footnotes, who has not started since his fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby, continues to train brilliantly at Palm Meadows training center in south Florida. On Thursday, Read the Footnotes worked a mile in 1:39.95 with regular rider Morna McDowall aboard.

Breaking off at the seven-eighths pole over the 1 1/8-mile Palm Meadows track, Read the Footnotes went in fractions of 25.86 seconds, 50.76, and 1:16.32 before coming home the final quarter-mile in 23.63. He galloped out 1 1/8 miles in 1:53.76 with McDowall barely moving at any juncture of the work.

Read the Footnotes worked a mile in 1:39.80 last Thursday at Palm Meadows.

"It was perfect," said trainer Rick Violette. "Last week was more of a sustained work, but today he was just asked to quicken a bit down the lane, and he did that under imperceptible urging. If I had him on remote control he couldn't have gone any better."

McDowall agreed with Violette.

"Even though he went in the same time as last week, comparably this work was faster, because the track was not nearly as quick this morning," said McDowall. "He finished up real well. I had tons of horse under me."

Violette has altered his traveling plans slightly for Read the Footnotes, who will now fly to Churchill Downs on Friday, April 23, after working once more at Palm Meadows.

"I'll give him one faster, five-furlong work of about 59 and change or a minute here next week and then probably an easier work at Churchill on Monday of Derby week," Violette said.

Smarty Jones's training regimen set

Trainer John Servis has mapped out a game plan for Smarty Jones, the undefeated colt who will buck convention by training at Keeneland instead of Churchill Downs, where most trainers prefer to go.

Servis said Smarty Jones will be vanned to Churchill for a serious workout next Saturday, April 24, then make two more trips during Derby week to be schooled in the starting gate.

Sinister G will run in Derby

Sinister G, who was taken out of consideration for the Derby after beating just one horse in Saturday's Wood Memorial, is now back in, according to trainer John Toscano Jr.

"The owners sat down and talked, and they realized how tough it is to get to the Derby, so we are going to go for the gusto," said Toscano, whose son, Paul, rides Sinister G.

Toscano said Sinister G had some mucus in his lungs following the race, but he expected the infection to be cleared up in a few days.

The addition of Sinister G severely impacts the graded stakes earnings list. Sinister G has $302,500 in graded stakes earnings, which knocks highly regarded bubble horses such as Eddington and Rock Hard Ten down a peg. Toscano said Sinister G would ship from New York to Kentucky about four or five days before the Derby.

Mulhall pleased with Imperialism work

Imperialism, who was placed second in the Santa Anita Derby after the disqualification of Rock Hard Ten, worked five furlongs in 1:01.20 at Hollywood Park with his trainer, Kristin Mulhall, in the saddle. Mulhall said Imperialism "worked a sharp half-mile, but they got him going five-eighths."

"He worked great," Mulhall said. "I let him break off about 25 lengths behind a Baffert pair, and he finished about nine back. I didn't want him to go in company or have a target. It just worked out that way."

This was the first work for Imperialism since the Santa Anita Derby. Imperialism acted up at the gate before that race, so Mulhall said she has sent him to the gate at Hollywood Park every morning the past week for schooling.

"I trained him pretty easy the first week, but I've schooled him a lot at the gate because of what happened at the Santa Anita Derby," she said. "He knows how to punch the front of the gate open with the front of his foot, so I've taken him back there and schooled him every day. The first couple of days he was bad, but he's doing better now."

Mulhall said Imperialism would fly to Kentucky on Monday and have his next work at Churchill Downs late next week. Kent Desormeaux, who will ride Imperialism in the Derby, will be on Imperialism for his morning gallop Sunday at Hollywood Park. "I want him to sit on him one time [before the Derby]," Mulhall said.

Pollard's Vision to be ridden by Velazquez

John Velazquez will ride Pollard's Vision in the Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher said. The mount on Limehouse is likely to go to Jose Santos, who rode Limehouse to a third-place finish in last week's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Value Plus has yet to be officially taken out of consideration for the Derby, but, when asked if Value Plus would run in the race, Pletcher said, "Probably not."

No Derby for 'Rock' if he runs in Derby Trial

Rock Hard Ten might race in the April 24 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs, but not in an attempt to improve his position on the graded stakes earnings list, according to his trainer, Jason Orman. "If it really looks like we're not going to get in the Derby, we might run in the Derby Trial and then go to the Preakness," Orman said. "We're not going to run in the Derby Trial and then the Derby. That would be too much."

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson, Jay Privman, and Mike Welsch