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'County' win may point him toward Derby

NEW YORK -- Saratoga County can win at Aqueduct. Is Churchill Downs in his future?

The 3-year-old colt swept into the lead turning for home and won the $200,000 Gotham Stakes yesterday, giving trainer George Weaver a glimmer of hope for a starter in the Kentucky Derby May 1.

Before the mile Gotham, Weaver said Saratoga County wasn't a Derby horse, but the win over Derby prospects Eddington and Redskin Warrior may have the trainer reassessing his plans.

"This was a terrific win for him," Weaver said, adding his bay colt most likely would make his next start in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland April 17. Then a Derby decision will be made.

"That will let me see how he handles two turns," Weaver said. "I'm not sure he's a Kentucky Derby horse. Most of the big [prep] races are April 10, at 1 1/8 miles, but they come up too soon. This gives me an extra week."

While a solid Derby contender did not turn up in the one-turn Gotham, top contender Birdstone was soundly beaten in the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park. The colt trained by Nick Zito tired in the stretch of the 1 1/8-mile race won by Sinister G, a 16-1 shot. Tricky Taboo, a 55-1 shot, was second.

Saratoga County, ridden by Javier Castellano, stayed just off a blistering pace set by Deputy Storm, then overtook Pomeroy and won by 2 1/4 lengths for his second win in five starts.

Eddington, the 6-5 favorite, was pinched at the start and unable to pose a serious threat in finishing third, three-quarters of a length behind Pomeroy, who ran a credible race in his first start since September.

Eddington won his previous two races, but was running in stakes company for the first time.

"He was chasing into pretty fast fractions trying to catch up," trainer Mark Hennig said. "I don't think this race will remotely resemble the next one. Obviously, two turns is better for him."

Hennig said his colt's next start will be in the Wood Memorial April 10, where he most likely will go against Birdstone.

Saratoga County, purchased for $100,000 as a 2-year-old by Evelyn Pollard, covered the Gotham mile in 1:35.88, well off the track record of 1:32.40. A 20 m.p.h. wind aided the early pace set by Deputy Storm, who blazed the first quarter in 21.88 seconds, and the half in 43.67.

Saratoga County, third in the Hutcheson Stakes last month after a troubled trip, paid $11.40, $6.10, and $3.20. Pomeroy, trained by Patrick Biancone, returned $9.20 and $4.40. Eddington, ridden by Edgar Prado, paid $2.50 to show.

"I liked his race today because he was aggressive," Biancone said. "He's going back to California on Tuesday -- it's too cold here. But I was very pleased with him."

Deputy Storm was fourth, followed by Redskin Warrior, Rockhewn, Quick Action, and War's Prospect.

Saratoga County, who earned $120,000 for the win and boosted his earnings to $185,700, won his first career start by 9 1/4 lengths at Saratoga last August. The son of Valid Expectations was second in an allowance at Belmont in September, then finished second to Wynn Dot Comma in his 3-year-old debut in the Spectacular Bid at Gulfstream Park Jan. 10. In the Hutcheson, he finished behind Limehouse -- recent winner of the Tampa Bay Derby -- and Deputy Storm.

Now it's on to bigger races.

"The Lexington is the right next step," Weaver said.

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