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Pulpit's loss opens Derby door

Pulpit's sermon came to a halt at Gulfstream Park Saturday, but not the world of thoroughbred racing. Sure, it would have been nice if the son of A.P. Indy had run his winning streak to four in the $500,000 Florida Derby and kept us wondering how long it would continue.

But what the victory of Captain Bodgit did was open up the possibilities again by giving some owners and trainers who might have been considering not entering the Kentucky Derby a chance to reconsider.

Trainer Frankie Brothers played down the defeat and said his colt would go on from there. Rider Shane Sellers was less than ecstatic, because even though his horse had every chance to win at the top of the stretch, Captain Bodgit was just better. Pulpit looked like a tired animal from the eighth pole to the wire.

Captain Bodgit is somewhat of a rarity in the Triple Crown picture. Seldom has a true contender made his mark as a 2-year-old winning at Laurel, Pimlico and Delaware. Among those he conquered in Maryland, however, were Confide and Concerto, two other legitimate contenders at this late stage of the game.

Even in his biggest victory, Captain Bodgit was submarined by the pen of the Gulfstream signmaker. As the wreath of flowers was thrown over his withers after the Run for the Orchids became official, the sign read: "Captain Bodg(e)t." It won't happen again.

DARLEY AWARDS: Owners and breeders of the best Arabian runners in America gathered at Tampa Bay Downs over the weekend for a three-day celebration of the Darley Awards, the sport's equivalent to thoroughbred racing's Eclipse Awards.

Ann Seymour's Seyvilla Wikeyna, a filly by Wiking (pronounced Viking) who was unbeaten in seven starts in 1996, was named best 3-year-old filly in the Darley voting. Sideways, also by Wiking, was named best 3-year-old colt and Horse of the Year for owner David Wootton after winning all nine of his starts, while earning nearly $130,000.

Soaring Fantasy, who won two graded stakes among six victories, was best 4-year-old filly; and Jest You Wait, a Tampa Bay Downs regular, was best 4-year-old colt. The winner of five races in '96, Jest You Wait is also by Wiking, who stands in Ocala at Town and Country Farm.

Saltiki, winner of eight races, was best older mare; and Strikke A Pose, another Tampa regular, was best older horse after winning nine times, with two graded stakes victories.

Daron Long, who rode four graded Arabian stakes-winners and compiled earnings of $231,823, was the top jockey; Bill Lewis, whose horses won 65 races and $369,105, was the leading trainer; and Town and Country Farms walked off with the leading breeder award. Town and Country is the breeder of Jest You Wait and five other horses who were among the award nominees. On Sunday, Town and Country captured the $65,000 Jewell of the East Diamond Derby with The Wiking, naturally, by its coveted stallion. Patriot Missle, bred by Town and Country (and by Wiking), won the $30,000 Arabian Cup. On Saturday, Super Tiki, by Wiking, won the Jewell of the East Sapphire Sprint, and Ht Sarah captured the Arabian Racing Cup Distaff. It was truly a Wiking weekend.

YOUNG START: One of the more interesting of the Arabian weekend guests was 13-year-old Monika Wardell, who traveled to the event with her mom from Havre de Grace, near Baltimore. Monika may be the youngest owner, or at least among them, of Arabian runners in the country. She bought two when she was 12. One, I M Mystically, has raced twice without success, while she's saving the other until he turns 4. "This turned out to be a good trip for me," she said, "because I have a new trainer for I M Mystically _ Betty Burger. She's going back to the track with Betty."

DERBY LANE: The Robert Mendheim kennel tops the list for the first time, with 15 winners last week. Top sprinter Scott Free won the 13th annual Matinee Idol Feature Saturday. The son of Terry Waite and Hardscrabble was the favorite and won by three lengths with the fastest matinee time of 30.65. Scott Free's win was Mendheim's third stakes win of the season. Mendheim has the top two sprinters in Scott Free and All-Star Kennel Preview winner and All-American Team member My Thane.

NEW SEASONS BEST: Wednesday night, Charles Marriott kennel's Baby's Dancer (Night Gent-Hot Ticket) broke MN's Mr Jersey's season-best time of 37.50, with 37.41 for three-eighths of a mile. The record is 37.08 by Awesome Memory in 1995.

SCHEDULE CHANGE: Effective tonight, Derby Lane no longer will offer thoroughbred wagering. Harness racing from the Meadowlands will be available Monday-Saturday nights, beginning Tuesday.

MATINEE ADDITION: As part of the Thursday matinee simulcast menu, Derby Lane offers harness racing from Freehold, along with wagering on Tampa Bay Downs and Palm Beach Kennel Club. Free admission during matinee only.

JAI ALAI: Dania's Alberdi and Cuvet won two games and scored 19 points en route to the first-round lead in the $150,000 Tournament of Champions Saturday night at Miami. Dania teammates Uriarte-Atain had one win and 16 points, Miami's Michelena and Largo High School graduate Daniel finished third with 15. Tampa's Areitio-Iruta were tied for fourth with 14 points.

"We were happy to get that first win, then we kind of tired out in the end," backcourter Iruta said. "We are within striking distance though and that is what is important."

Tampa hosts Round 3 of the highest paying jai-alai tournament in the world on March 28, and the first 1,000 fans will get free tournament T-shirts.

Round 2 is Friday at Orlando. The final round is April 4 at Dania.

_ Correspondents Vera Filipelli and Shane Best contributed to this report.