04/07/2004 11:00PM

Action This Day: Big Blue Grass or bust

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - One time, and one time only, Action This Day has jumped up to stun the racing world. The last-to-first rally the colt used to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile remains an isolated curiosity, a race currently viewed as anything from a harbinger of further accomplishment to a downright fluke.

In either case, Action This Day will have an opportunity to show which interpretation is correct - if not Saturday in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, then quite possibly three weeks later in the 130th Kentucky Derby. Unlike many other 3-year-olds scrambling to amass enough graded-stakes earnings to qualify for the Derby, Action This Day, who tops the earnings list, gives his connections the luxury of knowing that they are in for the asking.

Not that trainer Richard Mandella or owner B. Wayne Hughes particularly would care to move on to Churchill Downs should Action This Day run poorly here Saturday. Without a doubt, the Blue Grass figures to provide a crucial gauge as to whether the colt should proceed to the Derby, and Mandella, for one, is eager for Action This Day to prove he belongs.

In his first race after the Breeders' Cup, Action This Day ran respectably to finish a close fourth in the Feb. 8 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, a race that clearly has become a key event, with the first three spots having been occupied by Master David, Borrego, and Preachinatthebar.

Mandella was looking for the logical progression from Action This Day in his only subsequent start, the March 14 San Felipe, but things did not work out as planned. Action This Day, racing far closer to the pace than normal, finished seventh, beaten 9 1/2 lengths.

"It was very disappointing," said Mandella. "He got cut on a hind tendon by a loose horse [Laditude], although fortunately it wasn't serious and it's healed up."

But perhaps the most notable explanation for the poor finish was that "maybe I got him to doing too good," said Mandella. "He's always been one to take back and finish strong. He wanted to go to the lead for some reason."

Mandella said that he intends to have jockey David Flores take Action This Day back in the Blue Grass; what happens afterward should determine the colt's Derby status. Although an encouraging effort is a virtual necessity, a victory is not a prerequisite to run back in the Derby. Mandella is fully aware that horses such as Gato del Sol (1982), Unbridled (1990), Sea Hero (1993), and Thunder Gulch (1995) ran moderately well in the Blue Grass before winning the Derby.

So Saturday should provide at least a clue as to whether Action This Day has more glory ahead of him, or whether all the glory has passed.

Lexington only for Capac

Capac, who was a Derby contender until late February, will run here next Saturday in the $325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes, although the colt almost surely will not run back in the Derby, regardless of how he performs, said trainer Mike Bell.

"If he ever wins a derby, it won't be the Kentucky Derby," said Bell. "We'd have to jam him in, and there's no sense in that. When you've got a couple of races where you don't have to play catch-up with earnings and seasoning, you sure are better off. That hasn't happened in our case."

Capac, a Deputy Minister colt who won two straight races before running fifth in the Feb. 28 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel, is one of at least seven 3-year-olds likely for the 1 1/16-mile Lexington. The other prospective starters are Fire Slam, Pomeroy, Saratoga County, Minister Eric, Quintons Gold Rush, and Totally Platinum.

Tiger Heart: Quick return?

Tiger Heart, who raced to an easy two-length triumph here Wednesday in an entry-level allowance at 6 1/2 furlongs, is an outside possibility for next Saturday's $325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes.

"We're not set on the Lexington," said trainer Ken McPeek. "We're going to see how he trains next week before we make any decision. If we're not completely satisfied, we'll go ahead and point to the Derby Trial," on the April 24.

Tiger Heart, by Scatmandu, is owned by Buckram Oak Farm, which already has lost two top Derby prospects, Eurosilver and Silver Wagon, to illness or injury this spring.

Tiger Heart was hand-ridden by Pat Day in his Wednesday victory. "I told Pat not to hit him if he could help it, and he didn't," said McPeek. "We were hoping to save what we could in case we want to run back in the Lexington."

In his previous start, a Feb. 28 allowance route at Gulfstream, Tiger Heart finished second, 5 1/2 lengths behind Eddington, one of the favorites in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Saturday.

Limehouse already exceeding expectations

Even if he doesn't run well enough in the Blue Grass to move on to the Derby, Limehouse already has gone a lot farther than most horses with his background.

Limehouse won the Three Chimneys Juvenile on the 2003 Kentucky Derby undercard, stamping himself as one of the most precocious colts in his class. Typically, Three Chimneys winners tend to fade into oblivion as the rest of the class catches up. In fact, only two winners in the 18-year history of the Three Chimneys (formerly known as the WHAS-TV Stakes) have made it to the Kentucky Derby: Favorite Trick, eighth in the 1998 Derby, and More Than Ready, fourth in 2000.