05/26/2004 12:00AM

Bailey now on Shug's side


ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Shug McGaughey has won enough races to easily fill the plaque he will receive when he is inducted into Thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame in August. But one race missing from McGaughey's resume that he would love to win before that plaque is made is the Metropolitan Handicap, which will be run Monday for the 111th time.

Since 1988, McGaughey has run 10 horses in the Met Mile, with two second-place finishes and five thirds. One of those seconds came last year with Saarland, who was beaten a neck by Aldebaran. Saarland will be McGaughey's hope on Monday in a $750,000 Met Mile that will include the mare Azeri, dual-classic winner Funny Cide, and Carter Handicap one-two finishers Pico Central and Strong Hope.

Despite his regal breeding, Saarland has won only one stakes - the Grade 2 Remsen - in his 19-race career. Saarland, a son of Unbridled out of the Grade 1-winning mare Versailles Treaty, may have run the best race of his career in last year's Met, when he rallied from last only to fall short to Aldebaran and Jerry Bailey.

"I thought he was going to get there,'' McGaughey said Wednesday in between taking congratulatory calls from horsemen around the country for being elected to the Hall. "I think he might have got there, but I think Jerry rode a great race by getting Aldebaran out in the racetrack to sort of intimidate him a little bit. I've gotten beat like that before.''

McGaughey noted that it was also Bailey who prevented him from winning the 1989 Met Mile. Bailey, a four-time Met Mile winner, rode Proper Reality to a nose victory over the McGaughey-trained Seeking the Gold. It was another nose back to Dancing Spree, also trained by McGaughey.

Bailey will ride Saarland for McGaughey in the Met.

Saarland has only one win since last year's Met Mile, that coming in a nine-furlong allowance race last October here. Saarland is coming off a second-place finish to Gygistar in the Westchester Handicap in his last start.

"What I would really like to see is a fast pace,'' McGaughey said. "If he could get a fast pace where they start coming back to him a little bit, I think it would make a big difference to him.''

Spice Island ready for Sheepshead Bay

Last fall, Belmont racing secretary Mike Lakow did not deem Spice Island talented enough to warrant an invitation to the Flower Bowl. Seven months later, Lakow believes Spice Island is good enough to be the co-starting highweight in Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Sheepshead Bay Handicap.

Spice Island was not yet a graded stakes winner when the Flower Bowl rolled around last fall. But, after winning a third-level allowance race here on Sept. 11, Spice Island went on to win the Dowager Stakes at Keeneland and the Grade 2 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct.

"After we won the Long Island Handicap I asked Mike Lakow, 'Are we invited to the Flower Bowl this year?' '' trainer John Pregman said. "He said yes.''

First things first, though.

The Sheepshead Bay will be Spice Island's third start of the year, coming after a sixth-place finish in the Orchid Handicap at Gulfstream and a second-place finish against males in a classified allowance race at Churchill Downs on April 29. In the Orchid, Pregman felt Spice Island could have been second had Jose Ferrer not stopped riding the last few jumps.

"If he rode the horse right he could've got second,'' Pregman said.

Pregman ran Spice Island against males because a similar race for fillies and mares didn't fill.

"She was doing so well, I was kind of stuck,'' Pregman said. "She ran a very credible race. She came out of the race very good and it was a stepping-stone to this race.''

Pregman has secured the services of Jerry Bailey for the Sheepshead Bay.

"I've been trying to get Bailey for the last six months,'' Pregman said.

Spice Island will be co-highweight with Meridiana, who beat Spice Island by 2 1/2 lengths in the Orchid. Also expected to run are Alternate, Savedbythelight, Miss Hellie, Moscow Burning, Primetimevalentine, Andover Lady, and Spangled.

Friends Lake undergoes surgery

Friends Lake, the Florida Derby winner, who finished seventh in the Peter Pan, had surgery on Wednesday to take a chip out of his left knee. He will be sidelined until at least late fall.

"Depends on how much they find when they go in there,'' trainer John Kimmel said Wednesday from Saratoga. "Usually these kind of things they need 90 to 120 days.''

Initially, Kimmel felt that Friends Lake might have been sick coming out of the Peter Pan. But, X-rays taken Tuesday revealed the chip.

"I knew something was wrong,'' Kimmel said. "For him not to run at all, I knew we were going to find something. His blood work came back normal.''

Turf or Brooklyn next for Dynever

As a son of Dynaformer, Dynever is certainly bred to handle the turf. Up till now, trainer Christophe Clement has resisted the temptation to switch surfaces with the colt, who has earned more than $1.2 million racing exclusively on dirt.

After Dynever finished fifth in the Grade 1 Pimlico Special earlier this month, Clement is pondering a surface switch. Sunday, Dynever worked five furlongs in 1:01.98 on the Belmont turf course. Clement plans to work Dynever on the turf again Sunday and will decide what to do with him after that.

"It was just to do something different with him and I thought it was a pretty good work,'' Clement said. "He came out of it in good shape. We'll work him on the grass Sunday and then come up with a plan.''

Clement said if he decides not to try Dynever on the turf, he would most likely point him to the Grade 2, $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap on June 12.