02/08/2008 1:00AM

Two sharp maiden winners face off


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Any horse with Kentucky Derby aspirations who did not win his maiden until January of his 3-year-old campaign has little margin for error to earn a ticket to the big dance in May. That makes Sunday's $41,500 allowance feature at Gulfstream Park an important test for Jockey Ridge and Bordeaux Bandit, both of whom got on the Derby trail with impressive maiden wins here earlier in the meet.

Jockey Ridge earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 101 after sizzling to a 4 3/4-length maiden special weight victory going 6 1/2 furlongs on Jan. 18. In his only previous start, Jockey Ridge had finished second at Aqueduct on Nov. 10 to the equally promising Lieutenant Ron, who turned in a triple-digit Beyer performance.

"Obviously you can't take any steps backward at this time of year," said Barclay Tagg, who trains Jockey Ridge for Alan R. Cook. "Right now I guess this horse has to be thought of as a Derby contender. He ran as a 2-year-old and earned one of the highest Beyers of any 3-year-old this season when he won last time. Now we'll stretch him to a mile and see how he goes. If he scampers away and wins, then we'd have to start thinking about running him in a stakes somewhere."

Bordeaux Bandit also won his maiden at second asking in impressive fashion, drawing off to an easy 5 1/2-length victory going a mile on Jan. 12. Juicy Point, who finished second in that race, flattered the performance by returning to win his maiden last weekend. Bordeaux Bandit, a son of Vindication, is a half-brother to the graded stakes winner Noble Causeway.

Trainer Nick Zito loves everything about Bordeaux Bandit except the fact he drew post position 1 for his initial foray into allowance company.

"He really ran a huge race last time, and he's training very well coming into this one," said Zito. "He also has the advantage of having already run and won at a mile. Obviously I'd rather not have the rail, but he's not going to the lead anyway, so hopefully he'll break okay and just fall in behind the leaders."

Hey Byrn could be a sleeper. He is making his first start since finishing fourth in Calder's Foolish Pleasure Stakes on Sept. 22, a race from which four members of the field returned to win their next starts, including three in stakes races. Hey Byrn was stakes-placed at 2, having finished second behind local division leader Wise Answer in the Affirmed Stakes.