03/26/2002 12:00AM

Two furlong juvenile races not for everyone

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ALBANY, Calif. - Just as Kentucky Derby fever is beginning to peak, a few members of the crop of horses eligible for the 2003 Derby will be unveiled Thursday at Golden Gate Fields - 10 2-year-olds making their debut in a two-furlong race.

Many in the industry question the idea of two-furlong races for juveniles, but some rules have helped to slow a rush to the races. Babies must be 2 calendar years old and X-rays of their knees must show that they are closed before they are allowed to race. In addition, jockeys are not allowed to use whips.

"I don't really like them," said jockey Ron Warren Jr., who will ride Cash Creek in Thursday's baby race. "You don't see too many good ones [in two-furlong races]."

"They don't hang around too long," jockey Chad Schvaneveldt said of 2-year-olds who enter two-furlong races. "They get speed crazy and if they win they're done for three months."

Trainer Jeff Bonde has two 2-year-olds entered in Thursday's race. He said he is very selective about which babies he runs at the short distance.

"It takes a special horse to win, one with natural speed," he said. "A lot of good horses don't have quarter-mile speed.

"We only try to start a few in these. A few it makes speed crazy, and you spend the next six months trying to cure them of that."

Bonde admits there are some horses who can't win beyond two furlongs.

"For some, that might be the greatest moment of their careers," he said.

But that doesn't mean they can't develop into good runners.

"Over the years, there have been some good horses [to] run in these races," he said. "I remember Grey Moon Runner started at two furlongs for [trainer] Jerry Dutton, and he was still running until 11 [years old]. To me, it's an individual thing."

Warren said that losing early could often be more beneficial than winning.

"The best thing is for them to get a good experience with the crowd and the paddock," he said. "I rode Song of the Moment, who was second three times, and when we ran in a stake at Pleasanton, she was able to beat the horse that beat her the first time because that one hadn't raced since then."

Trainer Ricardo Perez also has two entered in Thursday's race, B. Lucky and B. Good Hero. He is not a proponent of two-furlong races.

"It's not really my style to run early," he said. "They are early foals, and they are training well. They've worked well out of the gate."

Perez entered the two horses because his owners want them to run.

"I don't recommend running this early," he said. "I'd like to win. If one wins, you can turn him out for a couple months [because no races for winners are scheduled until stakes races in June at Bay Meadows]. You have to push a little too much to get them ready this early."

Like Bonde, Perez enters 2-year-olds based on the individual. He said he tries not to enter bigger horses because "their legs aren't strong enough."

He would rather err on the side of caution.

"If you have a horse you think can run, you better wait," he said. "Then they are more mature. Their ankles and tendons hold together better if you give them a little time. If you keep pushing them, they won't stay sound. If you keep going and going, they can get hurt."

Bonde says the two-furlong races are "a chance for owners to get some money and a chance for horses to get experience."

Like Perez, he is not worried by the thought that an early winner will not be able to race again for a while.

"The last thing you want to do is over-race 2-year-olds," he said.