04/23/2003 11:00PM

Byrne takes familiar path

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Pat Byrne has been here before. Six years ago, Byrne won the Derby Trial with Richter Scale, who rolled to a powerful five-length triumph before going on to become a Grade 1 winner.

Byrne returns Saturday with a far less accomplished colt in Private Gold, and he is fully aware that the task will be more difficult this time. One reason is because because Midas Eyes will be a heavy favorite in the opening-day feature at Churchill Downs.

"This might be the toughest Derby Trial that I've seen," Byrne said. "Midas Eyes is just so good. My horse is fresh and he's really training well over this track, so we're hoping that maybe it'll set up for him and we can pick up some pieces."

In his last start, Private Gold won the March 22 Rushaway Stakes, after which Byrne refused to let himself set his sights too high. "He ought to fit pretty well in spots like this one Saturday," Byrne said. "We're trying to put him in spots where he'll be competitive."

Byrne has an obscure connection to the Kentucky Derby this year. He is the trainer of a 2-year-old by Hennessy out of Lucinda K, a pedigree that makes the colt a half-brother to Atswhatimtalknbout. Roger King is the owner.

"He's going to be like his brother, slow to come along," Byrne said. Atswhatimtalknbout did not start at 2 but has raced five times this year and is scheduled to run next in the Derby.

Yell breezes at Belmont

Yell, the Claiborne Farm-owned filly who ran fourth as one of the favorites in the April 5 Ashland Stakes last time out, sharpened for Friday's Kentucky Oaks by breezing five furlongs Thursday in 1:01.09 at Belmont. Yell's workout was the only one by an Oaks contender this morning.

Yell is one of 12 3-year-old fillies that Churchill officials are listing as prospects for the Grade 1 Oaks, for which entries will be drawn Tuesday.

With jockeys, the Oaks probables are:

Atlantic Ocean, David Flores; Bird Town, Eibar Coa; Elloluv, Robby Albarado; Go for Glamour, Alex Solis; Holiday Lady, Jose Santos; In Case of Wind, Calvin Borel; Island Fashion, Pat Valenzuela; Lady Tak, Jerry Bailey; My Boston Gal, Pat Day; My Trusty Cat, no rider; Santa Catarina, Gary Stevens; and Yell, John Velazquez.

Romans busts out with two wins

Dale Romans, who was the leading trainer at each of the last two fall meets at Keeneland, didn't have much luck at this spring meet until Wednesday. Romans had gone winless through the first 12 days of the meet until he saddled two winners Wednesday - Nothing Left in the fourth race and Flying Marlin in the last race.

"I sure didn't want a duck," said Romans, referring to the symbol of going winless at a meet.

Romans, 36, enters the Churchill meet with a remarkable streak intact - he has tied for leading trainer at each of the last three spring meets.

Romans tied for his titles with D. Wayne Lukas in 2000, Bernie Flint in 2001, and Tom Amoss in 2002.

Bailey not at fault

The Keeneland stewards have held jockey Jerry Bailey blameless for his role in the disqualification of his mount in the last race Wednesday. Bailey was aboard the odds-on favorite, Silent Crystal, who finished first but was placed fourth for causing interference when she suddenly swerved out at the top of the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile turf race.

"We thought he did a great job under the circumstances," said chief steward Bernie Hettel.

If Bailey had been suspended for the incident, he would have had to file an appeal in order to ride heavily favored Empire Maker in the Kentucky Derby.

Congaree breezes, may await Met

Congaree, winner of the Carter Handicap in his last start, breezed a half-mile in 49.80 seconds Thursday at Churchill. Baffert has not committed to a next start for the handicap star, but conceded that the May 26 Met Mile is the logical spot. "I'm just going to sort of train him and see what happens," Baffert said.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman