08/09/2001 11:00PM

Top Hit taking to routes

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Top Hit is getting a knack for racing around two turns just in time for the Grade 3, $300,000 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park in Oklahoma City on Sunday. The developing colt, who finished fourth behind Congaree in last month's Grade 1 Swaps, should rule as a slight favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Oklahoma Derby, formerly known as the Remington Park Derby.

Top Hit's chief competition appears to be Unbridled Time, who comes into the race on the heels of back-to-back restricted stakes wins for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The field for the richest race of the meet is completed by Compendium, who can win if he runs back to his powerful score in the $100,000 Northern Dancer Handicap; Rockchalk Jayhawk, winner of last year's Remington Park Futurity; Devout Sinner, the first filly to ever start in the Oklahoma Derby; and Buckets, a 10-length maiden winner in his last start for trainer John Ward.

Top Hit, whose four career wins have come sprinting, seems to have stepped up his game since he began routing on a regular basis this summer at Hollywood Park. In his last race he was caught behind Congaree's slow pace in the Swaps and finished fourth, beaten 5 1/4 lengths. And before that he was edged by eventual Swaps runner-up Until Sundown while rallying up the rail in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap.

"If he could have been in a better position and went to the outside of that horse instead of inside, I think he could have won that race," said Kory Owens, who trains Top Hit for Triple AAA Ranch. In previous races, said Owens, "I think he kind of didn't understand the route race. He got over that in the Affirmed. I liked the whole way he ran that race." Owens has given the mount to Garrett Gomez.

Greta Kuntzweiler has the mount on Unbridled Time, a $1.1 million yearling purchase and the lone horse in the field who has won at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Oklahoma Derby. The colt achieved that in his last start, when he romped by 12 1/4 lengths in the $100,000 Cleveland Gold Cup against state-breds at Thistledown in Ohio. Unbridled Time's biggest career win came last year in the WHAS at Churchill Downs.

Top Hit can score his biggest career win Sunday. He will carry six fewer pounds than Unbridled Time, and has history on his side, as he ships in from Southern California, which has produced four recent winners of the Oklahoma Derby.