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Tension not a factor for Derby prospect

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2003

Jennifer Pedersen's racing stable has one rule: "If you're not having fun, you're fired."

That's a tough mandate even for a largely anonymous trainer experiencing the whirl of a Kentucky Derby chase for the first time. Each race she and New York Hero undertake is the most important and exciting for them, but also the most pressurized.

Some trainers regress to a grumpy shell under such scrutiny. Pedersen, 40, continues to live by her motto -- and not just for her sake.

"Horses feel what you feel," Pedersen said of New York Hero, who is set to run in Saturday's Grade I, 11/8-mile Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. "If I'm nervous and tense, so will they. They pick up everything. It's a tough game, a tough business, but go in open-hearted and enjoy yourself."

New York Hero brought Pedersen to the Triple Crown trail by winning the Grade II Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park on March22. The 3-year-old has three wins, two seconds and $367,800 in five starts.

Pedersen said the colt does not have to win the Wood to convince her and owner Ernie Paragallo to attempt the May3 Kentucky Derby, but he has to improve.

"I think he needs to show some more," she said. "He's run quite well, but there is bigger and better out there."

Namely the current Derby darling, Empire Maker, winner of the Grade I Florida Derby on March15.

New York Hero has a certain resonance at Aqueduct and beyond because of his name. This 3-year-old class was the first named after the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and hundreds were given patriotic names. Paragallo named the son of Partner's Hero after the New York Heroes fund, which was set up to aid victims' families and to which he has pledged $1-million over three years.

"You used to be able to sit on the rail and see the twin towers at Aqueduct," Pedersen said. "I did not lose anyone personally, but we all lost a piece of ourselves that day. To run in such a prestigious race in New York with him is very important to me and to the whole barn."

GRASS GREENER: D. Wayne Lukas' last best chance at the Kentucky Derby, Ten Cents A Shine, was removed from the Grade II Arkansas Derby in favor of Saturday's Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

The Blue Grass also features top Derby contender Peace Rules, who won the Louisiana Derby in his only start at age 3; Offlee Wild, winner of the Grade III Holy Bull; Badge of Silver and Brancusi.

MERIT BASED: Region of Merit will contest the 11/8-mile Arkansas Derby after initially being pointed toward the Blue Grass. Man Among Men and the Tampa Bay Derby runner-up, Aristocat appear to be the top challengers in the 12-horse field.

STILL IN: Buddy Gil, who bled after his victory in Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, will not run for two weeks but is scheduled to enter the Kentucky Derby, according to trainer Jeff Mullins.

The gelding won the 11/8-mile SA Derby by a head over Indian Express. He will be treated with a drug used to prevent bleeding and placed on the California Horse Racing Board veterinarians' list. He cannot work out for 14 days, must complete 5 furlongs in at least one minute, three seconds and pass a state veterinary exam before racing again.

SHIPPING: Indian Express and Kafwain (third in the SA Derby), both trained by Bob Baffert, are scheduled to contest the Kentucky Derby. So is fourth-place Atswhatimtalknbout.

PINCAY ON BUBBLE: Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. will decide in three weeks if he will resume his riding career or retire. Pincay, 56, is recovering from two fractures of a bone in his neck after a spill March1 at Santa Anita. He is wearing a halo brace eight weeks. Pincay said he'll base his decision on the results of an MRI after the halo is removed. He has 9,530 career victories, more than any jockey.

-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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