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DERBY HERD HEADED BY BOSTON HARBOR

No sooner does the Breeders' Cup end than the eyes of the thoroughbred racing world turn to the sport's springtime spectacle, the Kentucky Derby, and the Triple Crown for next year's 3-year-olds.

The 1997 Derby stage was set Saturday when Boston Harbor edged Acceptable to win the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile and probably clinch the Eclipse Award as the continent's best 2-year-old colt.

Even though none of the 12 previous Juvenile champions has ever gone on to win the Derby, the winner of the sport's richest race for 2-year-olds usually becomes the early Derby favorite until proven otherwise.

Boston Harbor owner-breeder William T. Young said he wasn't worried about the "Juvenile jinx."

"I'll always take the jinx," he said. "We only worry about the race at hand. . . . We'll let next year take care of itself."

Boston Harbor, in case you haven't guessed, is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who already has trained three Derby winners and five Juvenile winners.

Even though Boston Harbor now is the sport's richest 2-year-old with record earnings of $1,928,605 from seven starts, Lukas cautions that it's "way too early to judge him."

But, Lukas notes, "he's a big strong horse with a nice fluid motion. I don't know why he wouldn't run. His pedigree (by Capote out of Harbor Springs by Urgent Request) says he certainly can run that far (the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles).

Whatever Boston Harbor's chances, Lukas, who started five horses in the 1995 Derby, expects to "surround him with a pretty good supporting cast, too."

Lukas, who had more than 40 2-year-olds in training last June, pointed out his stable has already produced 29 2-year-old male or female winners. About half of them have gone on to win a second time.

In addition "we've got about 10 or 12 horses that we're really high on that haven't started yet. That gives us a lot of depth.

"We're looking at some serious candidates here. We're going to have some fun with that 3-year-old picture."

Lukas also trains Gold Tribute, a 2-year-old colt which was checked on the first turn in the Juvenile and finished sixth, about six lengths behind Boston Harbor.

"He might have run the best race of any of my (12 Breeders' Cup) horses," Lukas said.

He said jockey Gary Stevens "thought he was going to go down. . . . When he snatched him he had to take him and then he wanted to run and he got ahold of him and he grabbed the bit and he went to the outside. Gary was just going to wait for another day."

But when the field cleared out, "he came flying," Lukas said.

Lukas, who had complained publicly when the Breeders' Cup announced plans to run at Woodbine, has changed his tune.

"Of the 13 Cups that I've been to, I don't think we've ever been treated better," Lukas said. "I don't think anybody's ever done a better job. . . . I think this is the best job anybody's done. . . . This was a first-class job from top to bottom and the Ontario Jockey Club and all the connections should be commended for it."

At the opening of Sunday's post-Cup media breakfast, D.G. Van Clief Jr., executive director of Breeders' Cup Ltd., called it, "one of the best Breeders' Cups ever staged," and confirmed that Woodbine will be considered as a Breeders' Cup site in the future.

He said the record Woodbine attendance count had been revised slightly upward overnight to 42,243. He said on-track handle was a Woodbine record $11,635,337 (in U.S. funds).

He said a total of $3,347,946 (U.S.) had been wagered across the continent on the National Pick 7 pool. He said there were only four seven-of-seven tickets, which produced an average payoff of $494,000.

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