08/15/2002 12:00AM

Bowman's Band at a crossroads


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Bowman's Band earned a spot near the top of the handicap division with a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Oaklawn Handicap on April 6, but since then has been unable to break through for his first graded-stakes victory. Sunday's Grade 2, $350,000 Iselin Handicap at Monmouth will serve as a gauge for trainer Michael Matz, who must decide whether Bowman's Band should continue battling the top of his division or look for slightly easier spots.

"This race will tell us where we are with the horse," Matz said. "It'll be a turning point for him, and let us know which way we'll go with him. We've always had a question of how he would be on the turf. It's going to be tough competition but we all hope he runs well."

An equipment change after the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap on June 15 may have been what Bowman's Band needed, since he returned with a fast victory in the Carpenter Memorial at Delaware on July 20. Matz changed Bowman's Band's regular nose band to a figure eight and also had his tongue tied down. Whether the equipment change was the difference in his last race or a drop in competition will be tested in the Iselin, Matz said.

After the Oaklawn Handicap, Bowman's Band ran second to Tenpins in the Grade 3 Schaefer Handicap at Pimlico on May 18. In the Brooklyn, Bowman's Band broke from the outside post in a field of eight and didn't care for the sloppy Belmont track, Matz said. While Matz did not want Bowman's Band on the rail in the race, he ended up there and Matz said the colt floundered without making a sustained run turning for home.

Eibar Coa, Monmouth's leading rider, picks up the mount on Bowman's Band, replacing the injured Ramon Dominguez.

The competition in the Iselin includes Grade 1 winner Include.

"Include is a real tough horse, no doubt about it," said Matz, who took over the training of Bowman's Band from John Kimmel this year. "We'll find out if he is as good as Include Sunday, and I hope the changes we have made will prove that he is. This horse just has a real big heart."

Bold World may try turf

Bold World showed little rust in her first workout since running fifth in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga on July 27 when she fired a bullet five furlongs in 59 seconds over a fast main track Thursday morning.

Trainer Ron Taylor said he only wanted Bold World to work a half-mile, but she was a little rank and wanted to run on, so he had her travel another furlong with jockey Jeff Burningham aboard. Bold World, a two-time stakes winner at the meet, may reappear next on the turf, Taylor said.

"I don't really have anything picked out next," Taylor said. "She's bounced back pretty good, and always seems happier when she's training. I'm not planning on running her much more this year. I want to try her turf sprinting."

Virus hits Hills juveniles

Tim Hills, who leads the Monmouth trainer standings with 24 wins, reported that a virus has struck his barn, infecting six horses, the majority of whom are 2-year-olds. Hills said the virus is not severe, and will probably not prevent Hills, who holds a seven-win advantage over Terri Pompay, from winning his first Monmouth training title.

Hills said the horses do not have a fever, but cough and have mucus in their lungs. He said the horses that were previously infected were over the virus within seven to 10 days. "It's an inconvenience if anything," Hills said.

Hills said he has gone from running three or four horses a day to one, with minor injuries and the recent infection hurting his barn. Hills also reported that Wish It Were, his stakes winning 3-year-old filly, was going to have her splint fired Thursday. She has been plagued by shin problems her whole career, Hills said, and will be given some time off. Wish It Were will be part of the string Hills is sending to Belmont for its fall meeting.

"She'll be out of training for seven days and then have a couple weeks of jogging," he said. "It's not a big deal. She had them in the past and that's been her Achilles heal."

* Bill White, trainer of fourth-place Grade 1 Haskell finisher Puck, said the 3-year-old colt would be leaving the New Jersey Equine Clinic, where he was diagnosed with a hairline fracture of his right large pastern, within the next two to three days. White said Puck will be flown to the farm of owner Stephanie Preston of Classic Contenders in Texas and recuperate there before rejoining White's Calder stable.

* Monmouth will have live racing on the final two Mondays of the meet, Aug. 19 and 26. Post time will be the usual 12:55 p.m. Eastern.