06/12/2005 11:00PM

Ashado heads into Phipps looking like old self

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Limehouse (right), pulling away from Gygistar, earned a career-best 112 Beyer in the Brooklyn Handicap.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Ashado appears to be regaining her championship form - and not a moment too soon.

Ashado, last year's champion 3-year-old filly, worked a strong five furlongs in 59.06 seconds Sunday morning over Belmont Park's main track in preparation for her next start in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap. The move, which was done by herself, was the second-fastest of 39 at the distance.

"I think she's training better as a 4-year-old than she has her whole life,'' trainer Todd Pletcher said. "She's bigger, stronger, and a little more willing.''

Still, Ashado is 0 for 2 this year, finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom in April and second in the Pimlico Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap in May.

Pletcher said he believes Ashado simply got tired in the Apple Blossom, her first start in more than five months. Pletcher was quite pleased with the Pimlico race, saying it was the second-fastest race Ashado has ever run. Ashado was beaten three-quarters of a length over a sloppy track Pletcher didn't think she liked.

"We were a little unlucky at Pimlico,'' Pletcher said. "I thought it was an improvement over the Apple Blossom. Third start back should put her close to a peak effort. There are some very good fillies in there, so she'll have to run well to win.''

Ashado was made the 120-pound highweight for the Phipps, run at 1 1/16 miles. She will meet Society Selection, a multiple Grade 1 winner last year as a 3-year-old who won the Shuvee Handicap in her last start. Society Selection was assigned 119 pounds. Also scheduled to run are Daydreaming (118) and Bending Strings (115). Saintliness (114) is possible.

Monday, Society Selection breezed six furlongs in 1:13.43 over the main track. Sunday, Daydreaming breezed five furlongs in 1:00.46, also over the main track.

Funny Cide escapes serious injury

Aside from a few superficial cuts on his right front ankle, Funny Cide escaped Saturday's Brooklyn Handicap relatively unscathed, trainer Barclay Tagg reported Monday.

Entering the far turn of the Brooklyn, jockey Jose Santos had to take up sharply on Funny Cide when Norberto Arroyo guided Cuba into his path. Funny Cide lost position, but came back to finish fifth behind Limehouse. Funny Cide was placed fourth when the stewards disqualified Cuba from third and placed him fifth.

Tagg said that Funny Cide also dislodged his left hind shoe, and likely caught his right front ankle with it.

Tagg called the cuts on Funny Cide's right ankle "insignificant.'' Funny Cide rolled around in his round pen just outside the barn on Monday. Tagg said Funny Cide probably wouldn't run again until Saratoga. While the Saratoga Breeders' Cup on Aug. 21 was a mentioned target, the Whitney Handicap, run on Aug. 6, could become an option with Monday's retirement of Ghostzapper.

"I'm going to give him a week off and make sure he's okay,'' Tagg said before news broke that Ghostzapper was retired. "I don't want to take him back to the track if he's got a pulled muscle in his back. I can't find anything wrong with him right now. But it wasn't pretty when I finally got a good look at it on TV.''

Meanwhile, Arroyo was suspended three days for careless riding as a result of the incident in the Brooklyn. Arroyo begins serving those days on Thursday. Arroyo did not receive any penalty for his ride aboard Judy Soda in the White Carnation Stakes. Judy Soda bumped with Madonna Lily, and was disqualified from first and placed second.

Arroyo has 17 days of suspensions under appeal, the stewards said.

Bush victim of two DQ's

Trainer Tom Bush was the victim of both disqualifications involving Arroyo. Bush's horses and owners were cost $45,780 in purse money as a result of the disqualifications. In the case of Cuba, it cost him a placing in a Grade 2 stakes.

Bush felt the disqualification of Judy Soda could have gone either way. He said the disqualification of Cuba was warranted. As consolation, Bush was just happy to see both horses run so well, though he frets about how they will do next time out.

"It's hard to duplicate those performances,'' Bush said. "I don't know if Cuba or Judy has another good one in them.''

Pletcher mulls options for Limehouse

Somewhat lost in the Cuba-Funny Cide situation was the performance of Limehouse, who earned a career-best 112 Beyer Speed Figure while winning the Brooklyn by 1 1/2 lengths in a solid 1:46.69.

"It was a breakthrough race figure-wise for him,'' Pletcher said.

Pletcher has not decided when or where Limehouse would run next. Options are the $500,000 Suburban here on July 2, or the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9.

"I wouldn't rule out anything at this point,'' Pletcher said.

Purge, who won the Peter Pan and Jim Dandy last year, has recently rejoined Pletcher's stable following a freshening on the farm. Monday, Purge worked three furlongs in 37.93 seconds over Belmont's main track.

Pletcher could not find anything physically wrong with Purge following his sixth-place finish in the Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn in March. Prior to that, Purge finished 10th in the Hal's Hope Handicap at Gulfstream.

"We freshened him up and hope he comes back to his old self,'' Pletcher said.

Sugar Punch getting close

Sugar Punch, the undefeated New York-bred filly sprinter, is getting close to a return to the races. Sunday, she worked five furlongs in 1:03.38 at Aqueduct, her first five-furlong work of the year.

Sugar Punch won all six of her starts last year, including the Schenectady and Iroquois handicaps. While training for another race in November, Sugar Punch was diagnosed with a chip in a knee that required surgery.

"She's coming along very well,'' said Mike Sherack, the vice president of investor relations for International Equine Association Holdings Stables, which owns Sugar Punch. "We'll work her one more time five-eighths and then start looking for a race for her.''

Richard Dutrow Jr. trained Sugar Punch last year. Dutrow is serving a 60-day suspension, so his assistant, Juan Rodriguez, is running the stable.