06/06/2001 11:00PM

What a long, bad trip it's been for Dollar Bill

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The song remains the same. Even his trainer, Dallas Stewart, is a little weary of hearing it.

"Getting a little old, isn't it?" he asked.

The refrain that keeps getting repeated: If Dollar Bill didn't have bad luck, he'd have none at all. Call him Bad-Luck Bill, the Doomed Dollar, the Hapless Horse, the Luckless Loser, the Can't-Miss (Traffic) Colt.

But whatever you do, don't call him late to a Triple Crown event. On Saturday, Dollar Bill will be in the lineup for the Belmont Stakes, just as he was for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

The litany of bad trips that have plagued Dollar Bill, a Peaks and Valleys colt owned by Gary and Mary West, began March 11 in the Louisiana Derby. They have continued, in varying degrees, through the Preakness, a string of four races.

Before the Louisiana Derby, there was nothing to suggest that Dollar Bill would become so trouble-prone. The colt was one of the top 2-year-olds of 2000, winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club to end a promising season. And in his 3-year-old debut, he had little trouble disposing of nine rivals in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds.

And then it began.

Louisiana Derby

Dollar Bill, the 8-5 favorite, loomed a threat near the rail when turning into the stretch. Suddenly, he clipped heels behind a tiring front-runner, nearly falling. He recovered well enough to finish fourth, narrowly beaten for second. Jockey Pat Day, who has ridden Dollar Bill in every race this year since the Louisiana Derby, called the colt courageous because of the way he fought back.

"You could say he's unlucky on one side," said Day. "But on the other, you could say he's lucky because of how he's gotten out of the situations he's been in without any injuries."

Blue Grass Stakes

In what was clearly the least troubled of the four trips, Dollar Bill threw his head, apparently hitting the front of the gate just before it opened.

Favored at 2-1, the colt never got into the race, trailing by some 12 lengths down the backstretch. He closed mildly to finish third, beaten seven lengths by winner Millennium Wind. Day later speculated that Dollar Bill may have been "knocked a little silly" before the start.

Kentucky Derby

Sent off as the second choice at 6-1, Dollar Bill passed the half-mile pole when Day began to feel heavy pressure from A P Valentine to his outside. "Hey, hey, hey," screamed Day, who was miked for sound by NBC. Then, an instant later: "Heee-e-e-EEEYYY!"

Just like that, Dollar Bill was eliminated. Slowed to a virtual walk, he wound up 15th of 17. "To go to whipping and driving after that would have been ludicrous," said Day.

Day said Corey Nakatani, who rode A P Valentine, later apologized to him for the incident.

Preakness

Dollar Bill, the 8-1 fourth choice, was gliding along comfortably midway down the backstretch, racing near the back of the pack, about 10 lengths behind the leaders. Suddenly, longshot Griffinite, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, drifted in, directly into his path. Again, Dollar Bill was stopped cold and momentarily dropped back to last of 11.

"I don't known if Shaun's hands slipped on the reins," said Day. "I don't know if he just lost control or whether he knew I was there."

Dollar Bill rallied to finish a non-threatening fourth, beaten four lengths by winner Point Given. Day was distraught afterward, incredulous that his mount found another nightmarish trip. He said he later told Stewart that the trainer may want to consider getting another rider, since their luck together had been so rotten.

"I retracted that statement the next day," said Day. "I thought about it, and I came to the conclusion that there had been rider error, but not necessarily mine. I told Dallas I'd like to stay on the colt if he'd have me."

Now comes the Belmont. Day concedes that the problem with Dollar Bill "might be that he just doesn't have the quick acceleration that's needed to get in and out of trouble." Yet he still believes that the colt is "very talented and very capable" and good enough to be a threat.

Stewart believes Dollar Bill has developed something of a cult following because of the way he tries.

"He keeps getting knocked down and getting back up," said Stewart. "Everybody loves a tryer."

Indeed, on Saturday, Dollar Bill figures to attract a fair amount of wagering once again. If he can somehow find a clean trip, racing fans might have to stop calling him all those nasty names - and just call him a winner.