04/25/2003 11:00PM

Brancusi thriving in seclusion


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Brancusi has been out of sight. Next Saturday, his trainer, Patrick Biancone, is hoping the colt runs out of his mind.

Brancusi has remained here at Keeneland Race Course since finishing second in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 12. Far from the madding crowd gathering 72 miles west at Churchill Downs for the 129th Kentucky Derby, Brancusi has been able to train in relative quiet. In the two weeks since the Blue Grass, Biancone said the 3-year-old colt has made significant progress, and Biancone is hopeful of a big effort in the Derby.

"We are trying to make him peak on May 3," Biancone said. "I am happy so far. Because of rain, he missed a few days of training before the Blue Grass. Since the Blue Grass, he has not missed a day. The Blue Grass was a good prep."

Biancone will leave Brancusi at Keeneland until only a few days before the Derby. It is an unusual schedule, but not unprecedented. Ken McPeek kept Tejano Run at Keeneland before the 1995 Derby, and he finished second to Thunder Gulch.

"I don't know if it is right. I'm not like Wayne Lukas or Bob Baffert. I have never run in the Derby," said Biancone, who has won major international races while training in France and Hong Kong. "This is my first. Brancusi is used to being here. He has been here a long time now."

Biancone had planned on bringing Brancusi to Churchill Downs for a workout on Saturday, but heavy rain on Friday persuaded him to alter his plans. Biancone chose to remain at Keeneland for the work, then received special permission from Keeneland to move it to the turf because he thought it would have a firmer bottom than the muddy main track.

"I really wanted to work today," Biancone said. "I knew they would let me go on the turf if I thought it was no good on dirt. He needs work. Who cares about the surface?"

Biancone used a similar pattern before the Blue Grass. Because the main track at Keeneland had been muddy for several days, Biancone took Brancusi to the turf for a gallop two days before the Blue Grass.

"Maybe we are preparing for the wrong Derby. Maybe we should run in the Epsom Derby," Biancone said, smiling.

Brancusi, accompanied by stablemate Tarkovsky, left Biancone's barn around 9:40. The two walked to the training track, where they jogged a half-mile before making their way to the main track and its turf course.

Brancusi, with jockey Tony Farina aboard, broke off about two lengths behind Tarkovsky, who had jockey Brice Blanc up. Both riders were outfitted with earpieces, and Biancone communicated with them, mostly in French, via walkie-talkie.

A quarter-mile into the one-mile work, Biancone leaned into his walkie-talkie and said, "Perfect. Tres bien."

Brancusi, going easily throughout, moved past Tarkovsky at the top of the stretch and was about four lengths best at the finish. His official time was 1:43.80 on a course rated yielding. Daily Racing Form timed him in 1:44.68.

"It was a very good work," Biancone said. "We let him stretch out at the end."

Brancusi, a son of Deputy Commander who cost owner Michael Tabor $375,000 as a yearling, has made great progress in recent weeks. He won a maiden race by five lengths Feb. 15, jumped right the San Felipe Stakes March 16 and finished third to Buddy Gil and Atswhatimtalknbout, then finished second to Peace Rules in the Blue Grass.

He has just one win in seven starts, but always has been highly regarded by Biancone. After Brancusi ran second in his debut last summer at Saratoga, Biancone ran him in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. He finished sixth.

"At 2, he make me crazy," Biancone said. "The first race, at seven furlongs, was a bit short. Then I ran him at Belmont, and he made me look ridiculous. I put blinkers on him. That was a mistake. He was not mature in the head."

After two more losing races, Biancone gave Brancusi a break. When he returned to race 2 1/2 months later, he finally fulfilled his promise.

"When he came back to work, he was training as good as ever," Biancone said. "He won the maiden galloping, very explosive. From that, we decided to let him run once every month, in case he came on well. He would be in good shape if he was good enough."

Biancone believes Brancusi will only get better as the year progresses.

"Anything he will do on Derby Day, I will say he will be better at Belmont time," Biancone said.

* The Derby field increased to 19 with the addition of Domestic Dispute, who on Saturday was sold and will now be trained by Paddy Gallagher. Of the 19, four are still considered possible: Eye of the Tiger, Lone Star Sky, Senor Swinger, and Ten Cents a Shine, though Ten Cents a Shine is a near certainty to run.