02/14/2007 12:00AM

Unwanted mount springs a surprise

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Less than 90 minutes before Sunday's seventh race, trainer Pete Anderson received a call from clerk of scales Victor Sanchez informing him that jockey Manoel Cruz had taken ill and could not ride his 3-year-old Delightful Kiss in the entry-level allowance race.

"At that point I was in a real bind," said Anderson. "With 11 horses in the race, many of them promising 3-year-olds from top barns, most of the good riders in the room were already taken. Manny is a top jockey and had worked the horse for me just three days earlier, so I was really disappointed he couldn't take the mount."

Things only got worse for Anderson as post time grew nearer.

"Fernando Jara was available, but when I asked, he told me he didn't want to ride my horse," said Anderson. "I approached Eduardo Nunez and he told me the same thing, even though he had won on Delightful Kiss for me at Calder. The clerk of scales finally told me that Jeffrey Sanchez was anxious to ride my horse. I didn't even know who he was, but I said as long as he understood English and could follow my instructions he had the job."

Sunday's seventh race came up as perhaps the strongest allowance race for 3-year-olds thus far this meet. The field included several potential Kentucky Derby prospects, led by Darley Stable's highly regarded and previously undefeated Came to Pass, along with trainer Shug McGaughey's graded stakes-placed Sightseeing. But despite his horse's long odds and the fact that Delightful Kiss had never won a race on dirt, Anderson was confident Delightful Kiss had a legitimate chance to win.

"In his last start, which came over the Gulfstream Park turf course, they made me change his shoes in the paddock right before the race because I brought him over with toe grabs and they are not allowed on this course," Anderson explained. "We had to file them down and it was like he was on ice skates out there. He couldn't get hold of the course, yet he still finished fourth against a good field.

"This time he had the right shoes, and I figured he was a lot better than most people were going to give him credit for."

Anderson told his new rider to let Delightful Kiss drop to the rear of the pack and not to rush him up at the half-mile pole and risk getting stopped.

"I'm very precise with what I want a rider to do because I know my horse better than anyone," said Anderson. "I told the boy this horse would put in a tremendous finish, and if he had to circle the field and lose ground, not to worry. He's a heavy-headed horse, and the worst thing that can happen to him is to get him stopped while making his run."

Sanchez followed Anderson's instructions like an old veteran. Delightful Kiss dropped back to last, circled horses five or six wide into the stretch, then easily ran down the leaders to win going away. He paid $49.60.

"With everything that happened with the rider situation, I don't think I ever wanted to win a race more than this one," said Anderson.

Anderson said Delightful Kiss's victory on Sunday earned him a chance at one of the upcoming Derby preps on the calendar - either the Hutcheson or Fountain of Youth stakes here on March 3 or the Tampa Bay Derby two weeks later.

"I'm 75 years old, I've been in this business for 63 years, and I'd be lying if I didn't say the Kentucky Derby wasn't in the back of my mind," said Anderson, who was the leading apprentice rider in New York in 1948 and had the distinction of riding the great Forego to a fourth-place finish behind another legend, Secretariat, in the 1973 Derby. "It's horses like this and thoughts of maybe getting back to the Derby again that keep guys like me from ever getting old."

Trainer felt Sightseeing ran well

Trainer Shug McGaughey said he was pleased with Sightseeing's performance on Sunday. The outing was the first for the son of Pulpit since he finished a troubled fifth behind Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Grade 2 Remsen on Nov. 25. In his previous start, Sightseeing had finished second behind the undefeated Day Pass in the Grade 3 Nashua.

"I thought his race was fine, especially considering he had the outside post going a mile, was returning from a long layoff, and had to weave his way through traffic," said McGaughey. "He ran five times at 2, so I just decided to give him some time at Payson Park, and as a result we're playing catch-up. If he proves to be good enough to be a Triple Crown-type of horse and we're still behind the eight ball trying to make the Derby, we'll just wait for another day."

McGaughey also said he's waiting for his top 3-year-old filly, the Grade 2 winner Boca Grande, to tell him when she's ready to run. The Hall of Fame horseman opted to pass last weekend's Old Hat and Davona Dale stakes and give her a little extra time before launching her 3-year-old campaign.

"She's fit to run, but she was slow eating there for a while and hadn't turned all her hair loose this winter, so I'll just wait until she's ready," said McGaughey. "Workwise she's fit and doing nicely. The Forward Gal could be a possibility, and there's a slim chance I might run her in the Bonnie Miss, although sending her a mile and one-eighth might be a little more than I want her to do the first time back."

Both the seven-furlong Forward Gal and the Bonnie Miss will be run March 10.

* Beginning Friday, post time will be advanced 10 minutes to 1 p.m. daily for the remainder of the meet.

* Charles C. Dunn died this week in New Jersey at age 88. He is the father of Calder Race Course president and veteran racing official Ken Dunn.