04/28/2005 12:00AM

At age 83, Stute enjoying runup to Derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In his more than 60 years on the racetrack, trainer Warren Stute has had only one starter in the Kentucky Derby, Field Master in 1967. He is hoping to get a chance again this year, with Greeley's Galaxy, the winner of the Illinois Derby. But whether that colt makes the race or not, Stute appeared to be having the time of his life Thursday morning at Churchill Downs, telling stories to a thicket of media members who largely had never encountered the spry, 83-year-old trainer.

Stute, who is based in California, galloped horses until nearly three years ago. Asked what made him stop at 81, Stute replied, "I had a stroke." Then, with a gleam in his eye, he added, "You don't think I talk like this normally, do you?" referring to his slightly halting cadence.

Stute was accompanied by his long-time friend, trainer Henry Moreno. Those two, along with Stute's younger brother, trainer Mel Stute, have been regular breakfast partners at the Southern California tracks for 40 years. Stute and Moreno came here on Wednesday on the private plane of B. Wayne Hughes, who owns Greeley's Galaxy.

"Look at him. He's so happy," Hughes said while observing the scene from about 15 yards away. "That's worth the price of admission, right there, seeing those two old friends. Ol' Henry's getting right in there, too. It's a big deal to a guy like that who's 80-something."

A reminder of past glory

Nick Zito was on the backstretch Thursday morning, watching Sir Shackleton train for the Churchill Downs Handicap, when he received a surprise gift. Jim Vonsick, a Louisville attorney and avid horseplayer, presented Zito with a T-shirt that read: "To Hell With Dosage, Strike the Gold."

Zito reacted with genuine delight when remembering how Strike the Gold's chances had been discounted leading into the 1991 Derby because the horse's Dosage index was outside the recommended parameters. Until Strike the Gold won, no horse without the so-called proper Dosage had captured the Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. "I'm going to hang this in my tack room," said Zito.

"I'd only worn the shirt once in 14 years," said Vonsick. "I figured Nick could appreciate it a lot more than I have."

The Dosage index, a statistical measure based on pedigree, has become a less volatile issue in subsequent years. Derby winners Real Quiet (1998) and Charismatic (1999) also were outside the prescribed guidelines.

Holthus's secret to equanimity

Surrounded by about a dozen reporters shortly after Derby prospect Greater Good went through a rather slow six-furlong breeze (1:17.40) Thursday morning, veteran trainer Bob Holthus was complimented by a television reporter who said: "Bob, it seems you handle everything pretty well."

Holthus, 70, said with a laugh: "I guess old age helps out with that."

Holthus said the workout "wasn't exactly what we were looking for, but it will have to do. He's shown what he can do, and he's shown he likes this track, so it's not that big a deal."

Greater Good would be the fourth Derby starter for Holthus. He previously ran Our Trade Winds (13th in 1972), Proper Reality (fourth in 1988), and Pro Prado (13th in 2004).

- additional reporting by Marty McGee