06/15/2004 11:00PM

Top team pairs up for Derby

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CALGARY, Alberta - On Friday, the eve of the Alberta Derby, the $100,000 highlight of this 47-day meeting, it is fitting that trainer Red Smith and rider Quincy Welch - runaway leaders in their respective categories - will join forces in the featured ninth race with the honest 7-year-old mare J. R. Hatfield.

Smith, on his way to yet another training title here, was fined for entering J. R. Hatfield in the wrong race a week ago, necessitating a scratch, but the indiscretion was one of the few things the veteran trainer has done wrong this spring.

His runners have won four of the 10 stakes run here this spring, and he will be represented by three entrants in the Alberta Derby, including Hoofprint on My Heart winner Kat Kool, who will be one of the favorites in a very strong renewal.

The connections of all 12 nominees, including Hastings invader Lord Samarai, will test the Derby waters, producing the most competitive field seen here in many years.

J. R. Hatfield has good tactical speed, and on Friday is poised to give Smith and Welch another shot at the winner's circle.

J. R. Hatfield stretches out to a mile against six rivals, and is coming off a six-furlong sprint that she probably would have won if Welch had been able to find running room. A Kentucky-bred daughter of Brunswick, J. R. Hatfield was stopped cold in deep stretch and had to settle for fifth, just 1 1/2 lengths shy of the winner.

Sky Gal looms as the one to catch in the $17,500 claimer but is suspect at the distance, and Welch figures to fashion a stalking trip for J. R. Hatfield from just off the pace.