04/17/2002 12:00AM

Another Lexington brings Byrne full circle


LEXINGTON, Ky. - A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Pat Byrne last won the Lexington Stakes. It was in 1996 that Byrne, after 10 years of training in relative obscurity, first began making national headlines when City by Night won the Lexington.

A torrent of success followed. The next year, Byrne trained the 2-year-old Favorite Trick to a Horse of the Year title and Countess Diana to the 2-year-old filly championship, while narrowly missing out on an Eclipse Award as top trainer. In 1998, Byrne enjoyed another spectacular season, capped off by a Breeders' Cup Classic victory by Awesome Again.

Since then, Byrne has had some ups and downs, with the more forgettable events being his bitter breakup with owner Frank Stronach and a controversial 45-day suspension stemming from a medication-procedure violation during the 1999 Saratoga meet. In the meantime, Byrne has had his fair share of stakes runners, although none to approach the phenomenal horses in the classes of 1997 and 1998.

In a way, things will come full circle Saturday for Byrne when he shoots for another Lexington triumph. This time, he will run Ethan Man in the 1 1/16-mile race, with a berth in the Kentucky Derby looming as an outside possibility.

"If you're going to stay on top on this game, you've got to keep coming up with good horses year after year," Byrne said. "I think Ethan Man may have the ball rolling for me again."

Ethan Man, owned by a 35-person syndicate managed by West Point Thoroughbreds, comes off a sharp victory in the March 16 Swale Stakes. Along with Officer and One Tuff Fox, he is one of a handful of speedy 3-year-olds scheduled to run in the Lexington, a situation that makes Byrne a bit uneasy about how the race might unfold.

"I guess we're lucky to be getting Pat Day," he said. "The race is just loaded with speed. Pat will just have to sit there and ride his race."

The Derby, he said, is possible, but "let's don't be dreaming about it. To win Saturday, he's going to have to run hard. Then you'd be coming back in 13 days in the Derby. That'd be tough."

City by Night, his 1996 Lexington winner, also did not make the Derby, although that certainly was not intentional. "He kicked his stall the day before the race, and we had to scratch," Byrne recalled.

Ethan Man, a Glitterman colt who has won 3 of 4 starts, figures as one of the favorites Saturday. The rest of the field is expected to include Officer, One Tuff Fox, Classic Case, Easyfromthegitgo, Crimson Hero, Proud Citizen, and Tails of the Crypt.

The Grade 2 Lexington will be televised on a delayed basis on ESPN2. The one-hour show begins at 6 p.m. Eastern.

It'sallinthechase may need new rider

It'sallinthechase, who apparently is headed to the Kentucky Derby even after finishing ninth in the Arkansas Derby, may need a new rider, even though his regular rider, Gerard Melancon, would like to ride him at Churchill Downs.

Melancon apparently will have difficulty obtaining a license in Kentucky because he was an unindicted co-conspirator in the infamous Phil Rubbicco race-fixing scandal in Louisiana in the late 1980's.

Kentucky Racing Commission executive director and chief steward Bernie Hettel said he could comment on the subject only if, or when, Melancon applies for a license.

Wilson Brown, trainer of It'sallinthechase, said that if Melancon is unable to ride the colt, then he probably would hire James Lopez, the leading rider at the recent Oaklawn Park meet.

Ben Ali Stakes looks like tough test

The Ben Ali Stakes, to be run here Sunday, is coming up much tougher than its $100,000 purse and Grade 3 status would suggest.

, winner of the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap in his last start, is probable, as is Invisible Ink, the 2001 Kentucky Derby runner-up who will make his second start off a layoff. Other prospects for the 1 1/16-mile Ben Ali include Connected, Duckhorn, Pleasant Breeze, and San Pedro.

Pat Day has picked up the mount on Parade Leader, who was ridden by Corey Lanerie in the New Orleans Handicap. Jerry Bailey will take over for John Velazquez on Invisible Ink.

Douglas suspended for five days

Jockey Rene Douglas has been suspended five racing days for his role in the disqualification of his mount, And Thats My Story, in the second race Sunday. And Thats My Story finished first in the maiden special weight race at 18-1 but was disqualified for bearing out in deep stretch under left-handed whipping.

The suspension is scheduled to run Saturday through closing day, April 26.

Apprentice Nagle set for debut

Apprentice rider Valerie Nagle will make her career debut Friday, riding the first two races here.

Nagle, 23, is a native of County Cork in Ireland, where she accumulated some 300 first-place awards in dressage and eventing. She was training 18 horses in Ireland for the 2000 Olympics but was foiled when hoof-and-mouth disease ravaged the United Kingdom. She worked last fall at Churchill Downs for Bob Holthus and is a recent arrival from Oaklawn Park, where she exercised horses for Sonny Wigginton.

Nagle's agent is Steve Elzey, who last year was the agent for apprentice sensation Kris Prather.

Romero benefit

A handful of tickets remain available for the dinner and auction that will benefit retired jockey Randy Romero on Sunday evening at Furlong's restaurant in Lexington. Romero is in need of a kidney transplant.

A wide variety of Thoroughbred-related items will be auctioned, including breeding seasons to central Kentucky stallions Mazel Trick, Brahms, Dixieland Heat, and Flying Chevron, and halters worn by such stars as Fusaichi Pegasus, Personal Ensign, Thunder Gulch, and Storm Cat. Farm tours, prints and photographs, and other items also have been donated for the auction.

Tickets to the event, which begins shortly after the conclusion of the Sunday program at Keeneland, are $100. For more information, call (859) 312-5611.