Jesse Davidson last night flew to Louisville for a sampling of Southern Appeal in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

Travel plans were made after Davidson received a phone call Tuesday night from Marvin Moncrief, trainer of the Maryland-based colt Southern Appeal. Moncrief said he would ship the horse by van to Churchill Downs and requested that Davidson ride him.

"I picked up the phone and, all of a sudden, he was talking about the Derby," Davidson said. "Obviously, I'm excited. I think it's a great idea."

The choice of Davidson no doubt will raise a few eyebrows in Kentucky, because he was convicted in 1975 of fixing a race at Bowie and spent 4 1/2 months in jail. The Maryland Racing Commission barred him from riding in Maryland but reinstated him last year.

Keene Daingerfield, a Kentucky State Racing Commission steward, said he would not attempt to prevent Davidson's Derby participation.

Davidson would not talk about his past problems.

The surprise decision to enter Southern Appeal, made by owner Howard Bender of Bethesda, gives Maryland three Derby entrants. Wood Memorial winner Broad Brush and Garden State Stakes winner Fobby Forbes are the others.

Southern Appeal has shown flashes of brilliance in his career, mostly as a 2-year-old when he won his racing debut at Bowie and triumphed in the Laurel Futurity. This year, he has won an allowance race but has not finished on the board in three stakes races.

In his last effort, the April 12 Deputed Testamony Stakes at Pimlico, Southern Appeal was the 2-to-5 favorite. But he stumbled leaving the starting gate, cut himself and finished last. "He almost went down and I had all I could do to stay on him," Davidson said.

Southern Appeal showed no lingering aftereffects when he worked six furlongs in 1:12 3/5 Sunday at Laurel. He has enough speed to avoid traffic problems that may arise in the scheduled 17-horse field.

Said Davidson: "When you've got speed, you've got a big advantage in a field like that.

"And I think a mile and a quarter will suit him fine. This horse has had a lot of bad luck. If he runs his race, he won't disgrace us."