04/01/2003 12:00AM

Chavez could miss more than five weeks

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Jockey Jorge Chavez will miss at least five more weeks of action after fracturing three vertebrae in a spill in last month's Florida Derby.

Chavez is now targeting the start of the Belmont meet, which begins May 7, for his return, but even that could be optimistic.

According to Ron Ebanks, Chavez's agent, Chavez has two compression fractures and one hairline fracture of his vertebrae. He was injured when his mount, Midway Cat, broke down and hurled him head first to the ground leaving the quarter pole during the running of the Florida Derby March 15 at Gulfstream Park.

Chavez, 41, was removed from the track on a stretcher and taken to a south Florida hospital. Initial reports did not reveal any fractures. Upon returning to New York, Chavez met with his chiropractor, who did detect the fractures.

Chavez, speaking from Atlanta Tuesday where he was filming a commercial for Wendy's restaurants, said he is expected to meet with his doctors in another two or three weeks to be X-rayed again.

"If everything goes well I'll go to rehabilitation," Chavez said.

At the time of his injury, Chavez was the seventh-leading rider at the Gulfstream meet with 42 wins from 284 mounts.

Chavez, the leading rider in New York from 1994 through 1999, won the Eclipse Award as the nation's top rider in 1999. In 2001, he won the Kentucky Derby aboard Monarchos.

Last year, Chavez won 223 races from 1,196 mounts and his mounts earned $13,721,254, the fifth highest in the country.

Saarland works, nears return

Though it felt more like the beginning of fall than the start of spring Tuesday morning, Belmont's main track opened for training for the first time since last December.

Heading the list of six horses on the workout tab was Saarland, winner of the 2001 Remsen Stakes. He went four furlongs in 48.91 seconds, the fastest of three moves at the distance.

"He looks great, he's carrying good flesh, he looks the way he's supposed to look coming out of Florida getting ready to run," said Buzz Tenney, assistant to trainer Shug McGaughey.

Saarland is unraced since he took a second-level allowance race by 1 3/4 lengths last Nov. 15 at Aqueduct where he ran a mile in 1:34.32. He came out of the race with a grabbed quarter that prevented him from making any of the handicap races at Gulfstream this winter. Saarland is expected to run in an upcoming allowance race at Aqueduct.

"That last race was pretty encouraging," Tenney said. "I don't think anybody thought he'd run a mile in 1:34 and one [fifth] and that was coming off a layoff, too."

Saarland arrived at Belmont Park Monday afternoon along with several other McGaughey-trained horses, including champion 2-year-old filly Storm Flag Flying.

Funny Cide drills for Wood

Funny Cide, prepping for the Wood Memorial April 12, worked six furlongs in 1:11 Tuesday morning at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida.

"I wasn't looking for him to go that fast, but they put a couple of truckloads of water on the track so that helped," trainer Barclay Tagg said. "But, he did it easy. He's doing very well; I can't lie about it. He can't be doing any better. I'm pleased with his progress. If he can run a distance we'll find out for sure."

Tagg said Funny Cide would work next Monday at Palm Meadows and then ship to New York later that day.

As of Tuesday, the list of likely Wood starters included Empire Maker, Indy Dancer, New York Hero, During, Kissin Saint, and Awesome Time. Colita, Sky Solider, and Senor Swinger are possible starters.

Say Florida Sandy packs top weight

Six stakes-winning sprinters clash in Thursday's featured $54,000 classified allowance sprint at six furlongs.

Say Florida Sandy, the $2 million New York-bred earner, seeks his first win since last Nov. 8, which also was the last time he ran over Aqueduct's main track. A 9-year-old son of Personal Flag, Say Florida Sandy shows a bullet half-mile breeze over the main track March 23. He must overcome the rail and highweight of 120 pounds.

Richard Dutrow sends out the coupled entry of Here's Zealous and Well Fancied. Here's Zealous, the 2001 Gravesend winner, most recently finished third behind streaking Highway Prospector in a Gulfstream Park allowance race Feb. 16. Well Fancied makes his first start since finishing sixth in the Fall Highweight Handicap. Prior to that he won the General Douglas MacArthur and Hudson handicaps, both restricted to New York-breds.

It's a Monster, trained by Ben Perkins Jr., is working well for his first start since last August. Gold I.D., who finished second behind track-record setting Captain Red two back, and Resolved, fifth in the General George Handicap last out, complete the field.