03/11/2008 12:00AM

Can Visionaire go the distance?


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Two years after winning the Kentucky Derby with Barbaro, trainer Michael Matz looks poised to make another run for the roses. But unlike 2006 when he was extremely confident in Barbaro, Matz isn't quite sure how good a Derby prospect he has in Visionaire, the winner of Saturday's Grade 3 Gotham Stakes in the slop and fog of Aqueduct.

"Who knows how good this guy really is?" Matz said Monday by phone from Florida. "It's a great feeling, if everything goes well, you might have a second chance to go back to the Derby. The question is, how far can he really go? Probably from his breeding it shouldn't dictate [1 1/4 miles]. I'm sure he can get a mile and an eighth. Whether he can get that other eighth of a mile, who knows? I think with his disposition, I wouldn't count anything out right now."

Matz, who did not attend the Gotham, was to have gotten a first-hand look at Visionaire, a son of Grand Slam, on Tuesday when he returned to the Palm Meadows training center in Florida from New York. While Matz said Visionaire would be nominated to all of the final round of Derby prep races, Barry Irwin, head of Team Valor International, which is majority owner of the colt, said Visionaire would run next in the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 12.

Irwin, who was at Aqueduct on Saturday, noted that Visionaire had a tough race in the Gotham and would benefit by having five weeks before his next start. Irwin also liked the idea of running over Keeneland's Polytrack. Street Sense won last year's Derby after running second in the Blue Grass.

Visionaire overcame a lot of obstacles Saturday to win the Gotham by a nose over Texas Wildcatter. Not only did Visionaire have the dreaded outside post in a nine-horse field, but heavy rain turned the inner track into a sea of slop. Fog enveloped the track, making it impossible for those on- or off-site to see the entire race.

Jockey Jose Lezcano said Visionaire was not comfortable with the slop early on, and Matz said Lezcano told him he was about 20 lengths off the pace while last down the backside. When the horses came out of the fog in upper stretch, Texas Wildcatter had a clear lead on Visionaire, who simply exploded in the final furlong to get up by a nose in the last jump. It was 7 1/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Larry's Revenge.

"Jose said he just wasn't very comfortable early on, but he really dug in coming down the lane," Matz said.

Matz said Visionaire came out of the race in good order.

While Visionaire will likely skip the Wood Memorial here on April 5, Gotham runner-up Texas Wildcatter is being pointed to that race and a potential match-up with last year's juvenile champion, War Pass. Texas Wildcatter cruised to the leaders around the turn, took command of the Gotham turning for home, but was just nailed late. Texas Wildcatter, a son of 2001 Derby winner Monarchos, raced in blinkers for the first time and showed the improvement his connections were seeking after a third-place finish in the Whirlaway.

"I think the reason why he was more forwardly placed in the race and made that kind of move was because of the blinkers," said Seth Benzel, the New York assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. "I think that horse had that kind of talent in there. We left a lot of horse on the racetrack in the Whirlaway."

The two biggest disappointments in the race were Saratoga Russell and Giant Moon, who finished eighth and ninth, respectively.

Saratoga Russell, the 8-5 favorite, displaced his palate, according to trainer Rick Violette, who said the colt would undergo a myectomy, or throat operation, shortly after his return to Florida. His next start will most likely be around one turn.

Richard Schosberg, trainer of Giant Moon, blamed the sloppy track for his previously undefeated New York-bred colt's dismal performance. Schosberg said Giant Moon came out of the Gotham in good order and would be pointed to either the Wood or the $500,000 Illinois Derby on April 5 at Hawthorne.

"We still want to give him a chance against good horses over a dry track," Schosberg said.

Sir Greeley likely for Carter

Sir Greeley fell a neck shy of Grade 1 glory in the 2006 Carter Handicap. The 6-year-old gelding will most likely get another try in that prestigious sprint race on April 5.

Sir Greeley won Saturday's Grade 3 Toboggan Handicap by three-quarters of a length over Man of Danger. He chased very fast fractions - the half-mile was run in 44.59 seconds - and he rallied along the rail in the stretch for the win. He covered six furlongs in 1:10.22 and earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure. It was his first start since finishing last in the Cigar Mile last November.

"It was a big comeback race for him; we thought he'd fire well fresh and we're really pleased with his effort," said Steve Moyer, assistant to trainer Jimmy Jerkens.

Recalling the 2006 Carter, won gate to wire by Bishop Court Hill, Moyer said that Sir Greeley stumbled at the start.

"He didn't get away from there real clean and was fifth down the backside," Moyer said. "He came with a nice run late, but the wire came up a jump or two early."

Megapixel too sharp to wait

Trainer Carlos Martin wasn't inclined to run Megapixel back less than three weeks after he won a six-furlong maiden race. But the New York-bred son Tale of the Cat is giving every indication that Martin would be foolish to wait.

Thus, Megapixel will take on winners for the first time in Wednesday's featured first-level New York-bred allowance at six furlongs. He will break from the rail under Ramon Dominguez.

"Eighteen days?" Martin said. "I'm a little skeptical, but when I saw him work [last Thursday] I got to thinking I might as well run him, because I don't know if I could wait another couple of weeks."

Please Impress, drawn to Megapixel's outside, and Fire Marshal appear to have the most early speed among the nine 3-year-olds entered. A fast pace could set things up for Hussonfirst, who was beaten one length last out at this level.