04/05/2007 12:00AM

Bold Start, McPeek both get second shot

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CHICAGO - Trainer Ken McPeek began this year thinking he might have a 3-year-old good enough to take him to the Kentucky Derby. He still might, but it is not the horse McPeek expected.

Birdbirdistheword was McPeek's number one 3-year-old coming into 2007, having first demonstrated prowess in grass racing before winning the $1 million Delta Jackpot to cap off his 2-year-old season. But Birdbirdistheword put in only a mild run in his first start of the year, the Louisiana Derby, and did even worse last week in the Florida Derby. McPeek said this week that Birdbirdistheword would return to turf racing and was "not a Kentucky Derby candidate." But if Bold Start should run especially well Saturday in the Illinois Derby, he might be.

Bold Start showed ability at 2 - behind him in his Churchill maiden win was Arkansas Derby hopeful Officer Rocket - but wound up his juvenile season with a third in the Cradle Stakes and a sixth in the Breeders' Futurity, his first efforts around two turns. Bold Start's three races this year all have come at Gulfstream, and all were at middle distances around one turn. He impressively won an entry-level allowance in his 2007 debut, ran terribly in the Swale Stakes, finishing a distant sixth, but rebounded with a vastly improved second in the Hutcheson, racing for the first time with blinkers.

"He deserves another shot at a mile and an eighth," McPeek said. "He ran a lot better in blinkers, but he still needs to learn how to handle himself. Without the blinkers, he just wants to do too much."

Bold Start already has made eight starts, as many as any other Illinois Derby starter, but still is learning how to race, McPeek said.

"He does everything so well in the morning, but he still doesn't put it all together in the afternoon," said McPeek. "We've been hitting him with repetition - and we just hope and pray he figures it out."

Caruso makes season debut

Caruso, among the most promising Illinois-bred 3-year-olds, is scheduled to make his 2007 debut in the $45,000 Lost Code, one of two overnight stakes on the 11-race Illinois Derby program. Caruso, from the barn of Richard Hazelton, easily won his first three starts last year, all sprints, before finishing second in the Jim Edgar Futurity, his first two-turn try. At six furlongs, the Lost Code might better suit Caruso, whose work pattern for his comeback race looks excellent.

The seven-horse Lost Code field also included Piratesonthelake and Churubusco, both sharp entry-level sprint allowance winners at this meet.

Short field attracts Rich N Clever

Rich N Clever, based in Kentucky with trainer Greg Fox, has as her major spring goal an Illinois-bred stakes race on April 28 at Hawthorne. But when Fox got word Saturday's Meafara Stakes was coming up light, he decided getting in a prep for the statebred-restricted stakes wouldn't hurt.

"They begged me to nominate to the race and I said, 'Sure, right, like I'm really going to run,' " Fox said. "But then, with only five or six horses in there I thought, 'Why not?' "

Why not, indeed. Rich N Clever finished second in an Illinois-bred entry-level allowance race March 15 at Hawthorne, but could easily contend for victory in the six-furlong Meafara, where she has only five rivals. How wide-open is the race? Trainer Bernie Flint put in Orange Crush, a filly who still is a maiden after 11 starts.

* The Illinois Derby went with nine entrants, the expected number, but Freesgood, an anticipated entrant, was replaced in the lineup by Sacrifice Bunt. Bill Mott trains Sacrifice Bunt; he also trained Sacrifice Bunt's brother, Vision and Verse, who won the 1999 Illinois Derby.