12/16/2005 12:00AM

Bandini back on track after ankle-chip layoff

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Bandini, shown training at Churchill Downs before the Derby, had the first workout of his comeback Thursday.

MIAMI - Bandini, idle since beating only one horse in the Kentucky Derby, took his first step on the comeback trail Thursday when he worked three furlongs in 39.80 seconds at the Palm Meadows training center.

Bandini won 3 of his 4 starts during the winter and spring, including the Grade 1 Blue Grass by six lengths. His only setback leading up to the Kentucky Derby was a three-quarter-length loss to High Fly in Gulfstream Park's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes.

Bandini was one of the favorites in the Derby but showed only brief speed before finishing 32 1/2 lengths behind Giacomo. After the race, it was discovered that Bandini had a small chip in his right front ankle that required surgery.

"Yesterday was just his first piece of work, and he's too far away right now to project when he might return," trainer Todd Pletcher said from Palm Meadows on Friday. "He looks fantastic - he's really filled out and matured into a lovely horse. I thought he breezed very well for the first time back, and so far so good."

Bandini is one of three top-class 3-year-olds in Pletcher's potent arsenal, along with Flower Alley and Magna Graduate.

Flower Alley, second in the Breeders' Cup Classic, is on a farm in Ocala, Fla., and won't return to Pletcher until the first of the year, the trainer said.

"He might run late in the Gulfstream meet, but we're really targeting him for the big races next fall," he said. "Magna Graduate is stabled at Palm Beach Downs with the rest of my horses who came to Florida from Churchill Downs, and as long as he seems to be doing well over there that's where he'll train this winter. Right now I've got him pointed for the Donn Handicap."

The Grade 1 Donn will be run Feb. 4 at Gulfstream.

Pletcher has been busier than usual and as successful as always during the Tropical at Calder meet, winning with 11 of his first 27 starters here, including Saint Augustus in the What a Pleasure Stakes and Up an Octave in the Kris S.

"We've run more horses at Calder this year, because we came down earlier than usual since I've got horses stabled at Payson Park," Pletcher said. "I've run a lot of maidens, especially maidens on the turf, and the stakes program at Calder this time of year is also very good. We needed to break some maidens on the grass before going over to Gulfstream, especially with our 3-year-olds."

Pletcher still has plenty of stakes bullets to fire before the Tropical meet closes on Jan. 2, including Wedding Singer and Manchu Prince in the Tropical Park Derby, J'ray in the Tropical Oaks, Ramzutti in the Pete Axthelm, and possibly Ready's Gal and Brazilian in the Frances Genter.

My Lordship may be slim choice

Pletcher will not be involved in Sunday's $40,000 Connie Ann Stakes, but some of his Northern colleagues figure to hold the upper hand in the overnight grass stakes for fillies and mares.

The Bill Mott-trained My Lordship may go postward the slight favorite over the Christophe Clement runner Life and the Graham Motion-trained Fin in the wide-open event. My Lordship has finished second in stakes in her last two tries on grass, including the Grade 3 Noble Damsel Handicap. Life missed by a nose against third-level optional claiming and allowance rivals in her New York finale, while Fin has captured two of her four starts since coming to the U.S. earlier this year.

Cleary accepts check for charity

Robyn Cleary, paralyzed in a training accident here in 1996, continues to be the leading fund-raiser for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Cleary, who is at the track every morning serving as assistant to her husband, trainer Brian Cleary, has personally raised nearly $700,000 from within the horse industry for the Miami Project in the eight years since her injury.

"When I started fund-raising, I had no idea there could be so many generous people in this industry who would step up to help us get out of our wheelchairs," Cleary said. "And to all those people I give my heartfelt thanks."

Cleary was at Calder on Saturday along with Marc Buoniconti - president of the Buoniconti Fund, the Miami Project's international fund-raising arm - to accept a check for $25,000 from the track for her campaign. Buoniconti was paralyzed in a football injury.

* Dream On Dream On sewed up honors as the top 3-year-old turf horse on the grounds after going gate to wire to capture Wednesday's Mel's Hope Stakes for his third stakes victory of the season. Dream On Dream On is trained by Bill Kaplan for owners Herb and Ione Elkins.