01/15/2004 1:00AM

Walk This Way stretches out


When the Fair Grounds meet began on Thanksgiving, Walk This Way was a maiden. Seven weeks and two wins later, he is the favorite for Saturday's $75,000 Crescent City Derby.

In a short time, Walk This Way has come a long way, but the question now is how far he really wants to run.

The Crescent City Derby, restricted to Louisiana-breds, will be contested at 1 1/16 miles on dirt, but of the 11 horses entered, seven, including Walk This Way, have no experience at a mile or beyond.

At six furlongs, Walk This Way would be the horse to beat. In the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile, a wide-open race on paper, Walk This Way came charging out of the fog in midstretch and scored a convincing 1 1/4-length victory over 11 opponents. Owned by Stanley Seelig and trained by Pat Mouton, Walk This Way has breezed three times since that start and is clearly a young horse with an upwardly mobile profile.

Still, the distance issue looms. Walk This Way is a grandson of the long-winded Chief's Crown, and theoretically, his relaxed, stalking sprint style should translate well into route racing. But until a horse successfully negotiates a true route trip, they get filed under "unknown."

For Old Lee, distance poses no problem but racing surface might. The second time he started around two turns, Old Lee beat open maidens at Louisiana Downs by more than two lengths. But that was a turf race, and Old Lee has finished far back in his only two dirt starts, including a 10th-place finish on Champions Day.

"We're hoping it was just the wrong distance in that race," said trainer Sam David. "He's trained well on dirt, so we're hoping it's just distance, not surface with him. Sprinting, it takes him out of his game. He needs the pace of a route race."

With all the stretchout sprinters in the Crescent City, there might still be one controlling speed horse. That is Arcus (not to be confused with Demarcus, another Crescent City entrant), who also has a win over open maidens in a grass race. Arcus's victory came at Hawthorne, and in his lone Fair Grounds start, he was done in by a speed duel when facing open entry-level allowance horses in a two-turn dirt race.

With a clear early lead, Arcus has a chance to take this group a long way. Distance is the question for him - as it is for much of this cast.