04/06/2004 11:00PM

Blue Grass outsiders keep their hopes up


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The proper verbal respects were paid to the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes favorites when post positions for the Grade 1 race were drawn Wednesday in the Keeneland paddock. Predictably, ample mention was given to Lion Heart, Action This Day, and The Cliff's Edge, if for no other reason than that's just the way these things work.

Yet because this has been a wildly unpredictable year on the road to the 130th Kentucky Derby, with longshots pulling upset after stunning upset in prep races, the connections of outsiders such as Mustanfar and That's an Outrage expressed an unusual degree of optimism about their chances Saturday.

"With all the longshots that have been coming in, let's hope that stays to form," said Neal McLaughlin, assistant to his brother, Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Mustanfar.

Mike Puhich, trainer of That's an Outrage, told an amused audience: "Last night at dinner, after a couple of bottles of red wine, this race looked pretty easy."

But soon after awakening Wednesday morning, Puhich realized that That's an Outrage will be the longest shot in the field for good reason. "It looks pretty tough today," he said.

Howard goes to his bench

Neil Howard had hoped to have Gradepoint in the Blue Grass or another major Derby prep this weekend. But when that A.P. Indy colt was eliminated late last month from consideration with a knee injury, Howard had to go to his bench to stay on the Derby trail.

It did not take him long to come up with Breakaway, another of the longer-priced horses in the Blue Grass. Although Howard will admit that Gradepoint probably had a little more flash and promise, he thinks Breakaway is deserving of a chance against top-flight competition.

"It took him a little longer to get to this point," said Howard. "He has improved every race. He comes pretty hard off the pace."

Breakaway rallied from far back to finish fourth in the Louisiana Derby. He was coupled in the wagering with Gradepoint, who wound up eighth after racing closer to the pace.

Lexington coming up strong

While the Blue Grass is part of the last round of major Derby preps, there remains at least one more race at Keeneland that probably will yield a Derby starter or two.

The Grade 2 Lexington Stakes, to be run a week from Saturday, appears to be coming up a solid race. At least five horses on the Derby bubble are likely for the 1 1/16-mile race: Fire Slam, Pomeroy, Saratoga County, Minister Eric, and Quintons Gold Rush.

Fire Slam, with his new rider, Pat Day, aboard, breezed five furlongs Tuesday in 1:02.20 at Churchill Downs. Fire Slam, most recently fifth in the Louisiana Derby, had been plagued by a quarter crack in a hind hoof, but trainer David Carroll said the foot is no longer an issue.

"We were playing catch-up with him before the Louisiana Derby, but he's doing very well now," said Carroll.

Eurosilver goes to the farm

Eurosilver, who last week was taken out of consideration for the Kentucky Derby by trainer Nick Zito, has spent the past week at the Buckram Oak Farm of his owner, Mahmoud Fustok, which is just a short drive from Keeneland.

Eurosilver won last year's Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, and was being pointed for Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes before getting an infection that lodged in his neck and head, interrupting his training.

What has befallen Eurosilver remains a mystery, but both Zito and Dr. Mark Cheney discussed some theories on Wednesday morning.

"It's blood-borne," said Cheney, Eurosilver's veterinarian. "He has an infection to his parotid salivary gland, but what caused it, I don't have a clue. There's some infection in there deep."

Eurosilver had work done on his teeth just before he was stricken with the infection. Asked if the dental work might have led to the infection, Cheney said it was a possibility, but that he doubted it.

According to Zito, Eurosilver still "has a molar up there that's not ready to come out," but he, too, was unsure if the initial dental work triggered the infection.

"We just have to wait it out," Zito said. "It's a very frustrating time."

Both Cheney and Zito said Eurosilver should be able to return to training fairly soon. Cheney said Eurosilver "might end up with a big neck," even after the infection heals.

Ministers Wild Cat lowers his sights

Ministers Wild Cat is entered here Friday, which is notable only because of the major expectations that surrounded the colt when he ran at Keeneland last spring. Ministers Wild Cat was a Derby hopeful going into the 2003 Lexington, but the colt ran poorly that day and quickly was dropped from consideration.

Since then, Ministers Wild Cat has not fared any better, having lost all four subsequent starts, including a 10th-place finish in his latest race, a Feb. 24 allowance at Santa Anita. A 4-year-old colt, he is one of 10 entered in the eighth race, a $58,000 second-level allowance at seven furlongs.

Wild Horses prompt favorite

Finally, Kentucky was good to Wild Horses. The 5-year-old horse pulled away to win the second race here Wednesday, a $35,000 starter-allowance route, after pressing the pace under John Velazquez. He paid $5.20 as the favorite.

Wild Horses, owned by Peachtree Stable and trained by Todd Pletcher, finished 18th and last in the 2002 Kentucky Derby. In his only subsequent race here, he was a well-beaten sixth in a Keeneland allowance last April. Wild Horses had become eligible for starter conditions after running for a $15,000 claiming tag in January at Aqueduct.

Honor in War's owner has busy schedule

This could be a huge weekend for Will Wolford. The evening after Wolford's star turf horse Honor in War runs Friday in the Maker's Mark Mile, the former All-Pro offensive lineman will be meeting and greeting customers at the season-opening game of the Louisville Fire, the Arena Football League 2 team he owns and operates. The Fire opens Saturday night against Hawaii at 7:30 p.m. Eastern in Freedom Hall.

Wolford, a longtime racing fan who played 13 seasons for Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh before retiring in 1999, would not commit to which event means more to him, saying, "although anytime you're running in a Grade 2, it's a pretty important thing in your life."

Congaree arrives for Commonwealth BC

Congaree arrived Wednesday at Churchill Downs for trainer Bob Baffert and will run here Saturday, turning back to seven furlongs when favored in the Grade 2, $250,000 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup.

Congaree will be ridden for the first time by Javier Santiago in the Commonwealth, in which at least three others are expected: Lion Tamer, Private Horde, and Saint Waki. Congaree ran fourth in his last race, the 1 1/8-mile San Antonio Handicap on Jan. 31.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman