04/09/2008 11:00PM

A victory by Hey Byrn can put him in Derby

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - With graded stakes earnings such a key issue in the weeks leading up to this year's Kentucky Derby, it's surprising more Derby candidates did not take advantage of the opportunity presented them at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, with the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes offering $150,000 in important graded money.

The only one who did is Hey Byrn, and he might still earn his way into the Derby field with a victory against six rivals in the 1 3/16-mile Holy Bull.

Hey Byrn's connections are hoping he will bounce back from a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, which earned him $50,000 in graded money. A repeat of his two allowance victories here earlier in the meet would make Hey Byrn tough to beat in the Holy Bull - and if he does pick up the $90,000 first prize he could find himself in the thick of the graded-earnings battle for one of the 20 spots in the Derby lineup.

Hey Byrn won his entry- and second-level allowance conditions by an average of better than 10 lengths. But after getting roughed up leaving the gate in the Florida Derby, the son of Put It Back could not sustain his rally around the second turn and finished nearly 16 lengths behind race-winner Big Brown.

Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said Hey Byrn bounced out of the Florida Derby at 100 percent, and he's hoping to take advantage of a Holy Bull field in which Hey Byrn figures to go postward the odds on favorite.

"If we win this race and can get into the Derby, I imagine we'll go," said Plesa.

While Plesa did not decide on Hey Byrn's status for the Holy Bull until earlier this week, trainer Tim Hills has pointed Famous Patriot for the race since the lightly raced colt won his maiden by 2 1/4 lengths when he stretched to a 1o1/8 miles for the first time on Marcho6.

"We knew it would be asking too much of him to run in the Florida Derby off that race, and the Holy Bull figured to be a perfect spot because most of the bigger outfits and top Derby candidates are gone from here by this time," Hills explained. "We want to keep him at two turns. A mile and one-eighth or a little further is a good distance for him, and his last three works have been excellent."

Other key contenders in the Holy Bull include Web Gem and recent maiden winner Dream Maestro. The remainder of the field comprises the maiden Chief Bear, Nathan Ridge, and Bipolar Express.