02/08/2007 1:00AM

Whirlaway a 3-year-old proving ground


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Is it possible for a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender to bloom at Aqueduct in the winter? Saturday's $65,000 Whirlaway Stakes will go a long way in determining that.

Arguably the three best 3-year-olds seen around here this winter - Lawrence the Roman, Summer Doldrums, and Sports Town - are all entered in the Whirlaway, run at 1o1/16 miles over the inner track. All three have run impressive races, but all three have more to prove.

Lawrence the Roman, a New York-bred son of Point Given, has won all three of his starts, but he has faced only New York-breds. He dominated the Damon Runyon Stakes on Dec.o10, romping to an 11-length victory in that two-turn race. Even trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. took notice.

"I'm very excited about him, and his last race had a whole lot to do with it,'' Dutrow said from Florida on Thursday, his first day back from a weeklong suspension. "At the same time he's still going to have to run against tougher horses. He's running against a little tougher [on Saturday]. Right now, we're lucky enough to inch him along, which I love to do with horses. For him, after his last race, I don't see this being a real big step up.''

On Thursday, the IEAH Stables and Sanford Robbins purchased half-interest in Lawrence the Roman from owner and part-breeder Lawrence Roman.

"We put a lot behind what Rick tells us about his horses and he's been really high on this horse,'' said Mike Sherack, vice president of investor relations for IEAH. "From what we heard, Larry was looking to partner up and do something, and we found something agreeable to everyone. We have people in our company that are looking to get to the big [races] and Rick has a lot of confidence that this horse can get there.''

The connections of Summer Doldrums and Sports Town are also hopeful their charges can do big things. Summer Doldrums, a son of Street Cry, bounced back from a dismal seventh-place showing behind Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Remsen last November to win a first-level allowance race by 8 1/2 lengths here on Jan. 12.

"He's a very handy little horse,'' trainer Rick Violette said. "He's the type of horse you can make two or three different moves on in a race. He needs to establish himself as a top-rate horse, and I'm hoping he can do that Saturday.''

Perhaps Sports Town has the most to prove in the Whirlaway. Coming off two solid sprint victories, he will stretch out around two turns for the first time while facing the best competition he has met to date. His trainer, John Terranova, has been around many of Bob Baffert's good Triple Crown horses and is hopeful he has one that talented.

"Just seeing what I've seen and being around the horses we've been around over the years, he just seems like that kind,'' Terranova said. "He's got the talent, it's just got to develop, and he's got to have the class. He's certainly got tremendous physical ability.''

Pink Viper comes off an 8-1 upset in the Count Fleet, just his second win from 11 lifetime starts. Sir Whimsey, third in the Count Fleet, and Philadelphia Park shipper Brass Run complete the field.