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Derby picture coming into focus; Pre-Kentucky races will test fillies' mettle


The beauty of traveling along the Triple Crown trail is that its secrets are revealed one by one.

Last weekend, most of the top 3-year-olds in Florida popped out of the shadows for the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Today, a few other Kentucky Derby contenders make cameo appearances in allowance races at the South Florida track.

And tomorrow, two of the top contenders in California, including one highly touted filly, compete in the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita Park. The performance of the filly, Honest Lady, will begin answering the question: Just how good are these fillies who keep running faster than the males?

In a 1 1/16-mile allowance race today at Gulfstream Park, Lemon Drop Kid, the Kingmambo colt owned by Jinny Vance of Sparks, makes his 3-year-old debut. He had been slated for the Swale Stakes on March 13 at Gulfstream, but his trainer, Scotty Schulhofer, said yesterday that he preferred the longer distance of today's race over the seven furlongs of the Swale.

The race, third on the card, abounds with potential Derby talent.

Alannan may become the top hope of the trainer John Tammaro, a Baltimore native, if Aly's Alley doesn't bounce back March 13 in the Florida Derby from his dismal performance in the Fountain of Youth. Alannan, a son of Conquistador Cielo, won his 3-year-old debut two weeks ago, a six-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park.

In addition, the trainer Nick Zito, whose Doneraile Court and The Groom is Red bombed in the Fountain of Youth, has entered Cryptodiplomacy in today's allowance race. And the Maryland-based trainer H. Graham Motion will saddle Bayonet, a Wallenda colt who is two-for-two since his owner Dogwood Stable transferred him from the barn of Dallas Stewart into Motion's.

In a seven-furlong allowance today at Gulfstream, the eighth race, Menifee makes his 3-year-old debut. He was 2-for-2 as a 2-year-old, defeating Lemon Drop Kid and Cat Thief, the Fountain of Youth runner-up, in an August allowance race at Saratoga. He is trained by Elliott Walden, who managed Victory Gallop's Triple Crown campaign last year.

Despite all this activity in Florida -- and today's Southwest Stakes, featuring the unbeaten Temperence Time, at Oaklawn Park -- the best 3-year-olds appear to be based in California. And most of them reside with Bob Baffert, seeking to become the first trainer to win three consecutive Kentucky Derbys.

He has so many contenders he's having trouble finding races so they don't compete against each other. One of his best, Prime Timber, a son of Sultry Song, races tomorrow for the first time as a 3-year-old in the one-mile San Rafael at Santa Anita.

He'll face several Derby contenders, but none more intriguing than Honest Lady, one of four fillies mentioned prominently among the elite of this year's 3-year-olds. An unbeaten daughter of Seattle Slew out of the Grade I-winning mare Toussaud, she will attempt to become the first filly to win the San Rafael.

"She's so talented it's unreal," said her trainer Bobby Frankel. "I think she's a superstar."

Baffert trains two of the other top fillies, Silverbulletday and Excellent Meeting, one-two finishers in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Silverbulletday, recent winner of the Eclipse award as outstanding 2-year-old filly, would appear in the accompanying "Derby Dozen" except that her owner, Mike Pegram, who won the Derby last year with Real Quiet, has other ideas. He seems intent on her winning the Kentucky Oaks, a race for three-year old fillies the day before the Derby.

The fourth filly is Three Ring, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and explosive 14 3/4-length winner of the Davona Dale Stakes last Sunday at Gulfstream Park. She earned a higher speed figure in the 1-mile 70-yard race than Vicar did the day before in winning the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth.

Trained by Eddie Plesa Jr., Three Ring may tackle the males in the Florida Derby.

Pub Date: 2/27/99

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