04/22/2004 12:00AM

'Action' works, 'Preachin' defects

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Action This Day has disappointed in his three starts since capturing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall. His trainer, Richard Mandella, has sought the reason for Action This Day's subpar performances, and now says he believes he has found it. And after a sharp drill on Thursday morning at Churchill Downs, Mandella says he hopes Action This Day can reverse his fortunes when it will count most, May 1, the day of the 130th Kentucky Derby.

Action This Day has been suffering from a sore back, which Mandella says came to the fore following his sixth-place finish in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Since then, Action This Day has been treated by a chiropractor and with acupuncture, and his progress, according to Mandella, has been noticeable.

The workout by Action This Day was done in company with stablemate Halfbridled, who was preparing for the April 30 Kentucky Oaks. The team drill of last year's champion 2-year-olds highlighted a busy morning that began insanely early - with the 5:20 workout of Imperialism - and included developments right through the end of training hours.

Most significantly, Preachinatthebar was taken out of consideration for the Derby following a five-furlong drill that trainer Bob Baffert did not feel was satisfactory. Preachinatthebar's defection, along with the uncertain status of

St Averil, a setback regarding Sinister G, and the expected defection of Value Plus, could significantly alter the Derby's probable field between now and Wednesday, when entries are due and post positions drawn.

The Derby field is capped at 20 runners. If more than 20 are entered, earnings in graded stakes races will be the tie-breaker. Song of the Sword is now the first alternate, but he could make the field if Value Plus, as expected, comes out.

Additional defections would help the cause of Pro Prado, who also worked here Thursday, and Eddington, who is scheduled to work this weekend at Belmont Park. Rock Hard Ten, who also has insufficient earnings in graded stakes, was entered in Saturday's $100,000 Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs. Should he win that race, he would earn an additional $60,000, which would vault him past Song of the Sword.

It was a dreary, rainy morning at Churchill Downs, but the spirited workout of Action This Day and Halfbridled was a treat, if simply for the rare sight of watching two champions in a team drill. On a track rated sloppy, they were given an official time of 1:12.40, though Daily Racing Form had the work slightly faster. Action This Day, with jockey Pat Day in the saddle, appeared to be going slightly better at the end of the work than Halfbridled, who was ridden by a heavier exercise rider, Paul Nilluang.

"Watching the other horses at the time go through the mud, these two went through it pretty strong," Mandella said.

Mandella decided to work both horses in company because they were in need of "one strong move," he said. Action This Day "would have worked a few days ago if his back issue hadn't come up," Mandella said.

"He had a problem in the middle of his back," Mandella said. "We've been working with a chiropractor and giving him therapy. He has ultrasound every three or four days. He's had massage, and we put heavy blankets on him to soothe his muscles. He'll have acupuncture [Friday] or the next day, and we'll check with the chiropractor in a few days."

Action This Day and Halfbridled worked shortly after the mid-morning renovation break. Preachinatthebar worked five furlongs immediately after the break; Daily Racing Form timed him in 1:01.22. Churchill's official work tab listed him as working six furlongs in 1:14.80.

"It was okay, but it wasn't what I was looking for," Baffert said. "I don't want to run unless he's got a shot to win it. He's got a little mucus, too, but that's less of a factor than the way he worked. I'm just not feeling it. If you can't win, you're just wasting your time. I know how taxing this race can be. I don't want to ruin him."

* Imperialism - who most recently finished third, placed second, in the Santa Anita Derby - worked well before dawn, soon after the track opened for training. With trainer Kristin Mulhall aboard, Imperialism worked six furlongs in a slow 1:17.40. A furlong into his work, Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year who is now trained by D. Wayne Lukas, broke off several lengths in front of Imperialism.

"He grabbed a hold of the bit," Mulhall said. "I drifted out about three or four lanes and took a hold of him. I didn't want a stiff work. He went easy. The track was a little sticky, and he got a little uneven between the eighth pole and the wire, so I stood up at the sixteenth pole and let him gallop out. He doesn't need much. He's pretty fit."

* Pro Prado worked six furlongs in 1:13.40 for trainer Bob Holthus, though Daily Racing Form had him slightly slower.

* At Belmont Park in New York, Sinister G merely jogged while possibly still feeling the effects of a respiratory infection with which he was diagnosed following his 10th-place finish in the Wood Memorial.

Trainer John Toscano Jr. said Sinister G coughed Thursday morning and is still being treated with antibiotics.

"He scoped clean, but we are going to play it by ear," Toscano said. "We hope it's not a recurrence of the infection he had. We'll take this day by day."

If Toscano deems Sinister G healthy, he said he will work Sinister G on Saturday at Belmont.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson