10/06/2005 11:00PM

Choctaw Nation a go for Classic

Stevie Wonderboy drilled six furlongs in 1:14.40 in his first work since his Futurity win.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Choctaw Nation, the two-time winner of the San Diego Handicap who finished third in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap on Oct. 1, will make his next start in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 29, owner Bob Bone said Friday.

Bone said the prospect of starting the late-running Choctaw Nation in a race that may have ample speed is too tempting to pass.

"As long as that stretch is, and with all that speed, I think we'll have as good a chance as anyone," Bone said.

Trained by Jeff Mullins, Choctaw Nation finished third behind BC Classic hopeful Rock Hard Ten in the four-horse Goodwood. Bone said that Choctaw Nation had little chance to employ his late kick in the Goodwood because of a slow pace of 48.60 seconds in the first half-mile. "We had no shot at Santa Anita," he said.

Considering the quicker pace that developed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 1, Bone said he thought that Choctaw Nation "could have given Borrego a run for his money." Borrego closed from off the pace to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup by 4 1/2 lengths.

Choctaw Nation, 5, has won 6 of 12 starts and $1,185,800. The San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in 2004 and 2005 are Choctaw Nation's only stakes wins, but the gelding was third in the $6 million Dubai World Cup last March.

Virus spreads through barn areas

A respiratory virus that causes elevated temperatures and the presence of mucus has struck several barns at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park in recent days, causing the death of one horse and affecting the number of horses able to start, trainers and track officials said.

According to trainer Steve Knapp, City and State, claimed for $62,500 after a win at Del Mar on Aug. 26, died recently as a result of the effects of a virus. Knapp said the 3-year-old had a 104 temperature at one point and was transferred to an equine hospital before he succumbed. Normal temperature for a horse is about 100 degrees.

"We've had a couple of other horses that have gotten sick," Knapp said of his 45-horse barn.

The impact of the virus on entries is "difficult to quantify, but it can't help," according to Mike Harlow, the director of racing at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting.

"It seems at this time of year, because of the weather change, horses are prone to getting sick," Harlow said. "The sickness is something they don't get over in a couple of days. A lot of the horses that we are trying to hustle are sick."

The illness has affected the major stakes of the meeting. Trainer Bob Baffert scratched Bob and John from the Norfolk Stakes last weekend after he became ill.

"It hit Bob and John and Da Stoops," Baffert said, referring to two of his leading 2-year-olds. "I think I had about 10 horses get sick."

Baffert said he was treating the sick horses with "heavy-duty antibiotics."

"You have to jump on them right away," he said. "It will last about 10 days.

"I think it's the change of climate. They were all up to date on vaccines. Some horses' immune systems are different."

Stevie Wonderboy has first work back

Stevie Wonderboy, the winner of the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 7, moved closer to a start in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after working six furlongs in 1:14.40 at Hollywood Park on Thursday.

The workout was the first for Stevie Wonderboy since the Futurity.

Trainer Doug O'Neill said Stevie Wonderboy "looked like he was going in 1:18."

O'Neill opted to hold Stevie Wonderboy out of the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita last Sunday in favor of going directly to the BC Juvenile at Belmont Park. Stevie Wonderboy will be sent to New York "in the next 10 days" and will have a workout over that track, O'Neill said.

Owned by Merv Griffin, Stevie Wonderboy has won 2 of 4 starts and $202,140. O'Neill said he passed the Norfolk Stakes to prevent Stevie Wonderboy from starting around two turns for the first time in his career and then reverting to a one-turn race in the BC Juvenile. Races at 1 1/16 miles are run around two turns at Santa Anita, but one turn at Belmont Park.

Changes to pick-three scratch rules

The California Horse Racing Board has changed the rules regarding late scratches in the pick three, creating a consolation payoff and doing away with the transfer of a scratched selection to the post-time favorite.

The new rule is expected to take effect later this fall, according to CHRB officials. It must be approved by the state's office of administrative law before it can be introduced.

Under the amended rules, if the scratch occurs before the first leg, the bet is refunded. If a scratch occurs in the second or third leg, a consolation will be paid to ticketholders with two winners.

At Thursday's CHRB meeting, the board passed a regulation permitting the board to have broader surveillance rights in the barn area, including the right to install video cameras in stables or require that a horse be placed in a security area at "the sole and absolute discretion of the Board."

The rule states that any horse, stable, or trainer on racetrack premises can be subject to surveillance. Owners or trainers who fail to comply could be barred from the racetrack or face a fine or suspension.

The rule had emergency status and has been sent to the office of administrative law for approval. It could be enacted within two weeks.

Espinoza to ride Diamond Omi

Victor Espinoza has been booked to ride Diamond Omi in the BC Juvenile Fillies, Baffert said.

Diamond Omi was ridden by David Flores to an upset win in the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 1.

"It's Victor's mount," Baffert said.

Espinoza could not ride Diamond Omi in the Oak Leaf Stakes because he was at Belmont Park riding Imperialism to a fifth-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

* There is a nine-race program on Monday, featuring the $75,000 Cover Gal Stakes for 2-year-old statebred fillies. The race has eight entrants, including River's Prayer, the winner of the Cinderella Stakes at Hollywood Park in June.