05/29/2003 11:00PM

'Wicked' not Belmont material


LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Churchill's main track is sloppy, it can become much more speed favoring than usual. That was the case on May 17, when five of the 10 races on the main track were won by front-runners. There were also three winners who came from second-place, another from third, and one from fourth.

A similar pattern emerged May 25. Three of the eight races on the sloppy main track were won on the front end, and another four winners were in second at the first call. A thorough examination of those races should provide a few candidates to add to your horses to watch list:

Saucy Viva had battled early and weakened in her last two starts. Her connections changed tactics in the first race May 25, a six-furlong $7,500 claiming race. She wasn't asked for much early, and dropped back to last, 4 3/4 lengths off the pace. The modest 46.82-second half-mile fraction didn't help her cause. Jockey John McKee got busy on her at the top of the lane, and Saucy Viva angled out to the six path and delivered a strong move to finish a fast-closing second, beaten by a half-length. Her running style is flexible, so she should be able to get a better trip next time if her connections use tactics that are in tune with the prevailing bias.

Wild and Wicked was made the 1-2 favorite in the second, a 1 1/16-mile allowance N1X. He had dominated maiden specials at Keeneland in a 9 1/2-length triumph with a 97 Beyer, and figured to cruise despite the step up in class. Wild and Wicked scored by 2 3/4 with speed to spare, but he enjoyed an easy trip while loose on the lead through a slower-than-par 47.93 and 1:12.83 pace on that speed-favoring track. He will have to improve by leaps and bounds if he runs in the Belmont.

The lone horse on the card who won despite not being first or second at the first call was Hurry Me Home in the fourth, a six-furlong $17,500 claiming race. He fell back to be last of eight, 6 1/2 lengths off the pace at the first call, then made an eye-catching move to gain ground steadily on the turn. He rallied seven wide down the stretch, and won by a half-length. Although it is tempting to play him back next time, his performance wasn't nearly as good as it appeared to be at first glance. He was able to defy the bias because the speed in front of him simply fell apart. The strong early pace exhausted the leaders, who crawled home through their last quarter in 27.58, with a final furlong in a very slow 14.23.

Derby Gray has shown the ability to stay within striking distance of the leaders on occasion, but he didn't when he broke slowly and was allowed to settle far back early in the sixth, a one-mile $5,000 claiming race. He was 11th of 12, 18 1/2 lengths off the pace after a half-mile, and didn't get rolling until the top of the stretch, when he angled out to mid-track and flew home to finish third, beaten by 2 1/2. He hadn't shown much in two previous wet-track starts, so improvement is likely over a fast strip. A change of tactics and a kinder bias would make Derby Gray a prime contender in a similar spot.

Sir Dorset ran well when he rallied from eighth to finish second in that same race, but that was his first start since June 2001 and regression will be a concern for this 8-year-old next time out.

Oh My Harlan bid from ninth, nine lengths off the pace, to finish fourth in the seventh, a one-mile $10,000 claiming race. But he had just won in the mud here on May 10 in his lone previous wet-track attempt, so the track condition might have flattered him again.

I will keep an eye on Six Am, who was last of 11, 10 lengths behind the leader at the first call in that same race. He closed ground to finish fifth, beaten by six lengths, and checked in just a half-length behind Oh My Harlan. Six Am's wet track Beyers are similar to his fast track numbers, so he seems more likely than Oh My Harlan to improve off this better-than-looked try over a fast track.