03/21/2005 12:00AM

Closing Argument on schedule

Closing Argument is set to go in Florida Derby.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Closing Argument has been conspicuous by his absence since winning the Grade 3 Holy Bull here on Feb. 5. But trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Closing Argument is alive and doing well at Palm Meadows, where he continues to prepare for the $1 million Florida Derby on April 2.

Closing Argument worked five furlongs in 1:02.40 at Palm Meadows on Monday morning. It was his penultimate work before the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, in which he'll be one of the favorites along with High Fly, Bandini, and Noble Causeway.

"He's doing very well," said McLaughlin. "He'll have one more half-mile work, either Saturday or Sunday, prior to the Florida Derby."

Closing Argument, a son of Successful Appeal, forced the pace before edging clear to a 1 1/2-length victory over Kansas City Boy in the Holy Bull. Among his victims that day was High Fly, who came back to score a victory over Bandini in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

Closing Argument, who is owned by Phil and Marcia Cohen, was reportedly on the market following his performance in the Holy Bull but was not sold. McLaughlin said that was not the reason Closing Argument passed the Fountain of Youth.

"There's no real reason why we skipped the last one," said McLaughlin. "He has worked regularly since the Holy Bull. I just wanted to give him the extra time."

Closing Argument earned a career-best 98 Beyer Speed Figure in winning the Holy Bull and McLaughlin figures a repeat of that effort should put him right in the hunt in the Florida Derby.

"I don't know if he'll move forward off his last race, but if he runs equally as well he should be very tough in this race," said McLaughlin. "If he runs well in the Florida Derby the plan would be to go right into the Kentucky Derby."

Bandini and High Fly, who like Closing Argument are both stabled at Palm Meadows, also worked over the weekend. Bandini breezed five furlongs in 1:01 on Sunday while High Fly covered the same distance in 1:02 the previous morning.

Trainer Nick Zito said both High Fly and Noble Causeway would have their final works for the Florida Derby at Palm Meadows on Saturday.

Maragh rides first Grade 1 victory

Jockey Rajiv Maragh registered the first graded stakes victory of his career, guiding Lilah to a three-length victory for trainer Allen Jerkens in Sunday's Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie Handicap.

The three wins gave Maragh 31 for the meeting and moved him into seventh-place in the standings. The Jamaican-born 19-year-old loses his five-pound apprentice allowance on April 18. He plans to ride out the remainder of this meet and ride at Monmouth Park during the summer.

Madcap Escapade and Funny Cide stretch legs

A couple of the more notable horses still stabled at Gulfstream Park, Madcap Escapade and Funny Cide, were on the work tab Monday, although neither will race here during the rest of the meet.

Madcap Escapade, winner of the Grade 2 Shirley Jones Handicap here this meet, went five furlongs in 1:01 for trainer Frank Brothers. She is scheduled to depart for Keeneland later this week.

Funny Cide, idle since the Breeders' Cup Classic, went a half-mile in 48 seconds in just his second recorded workout since winter began.

"This was just a leg-stretcher for him," said trainer Barclay Tagg, who has not yet picked out a specific race for Funny Cide's 2005 debut.

Impressive pair in maiden race

Two well-bred and expensive young fillies, For All We Know and Talented, put on a show in Monday's ninth race. They dominated the second division of a six-furlong maiden dash for 3-year-old fillies from the outset, with For All We Know outgaming Talented in the closing strides to win in what was her racing debut. The time of 1:09.34 was better than two seconds faster than Diamond Band's clocking in winning the opening split of the race.

For All We Know is a daughter of Stephen Got Even out of the multiple Grade 1 winner Over All. A $550,000 2-year-old purchase by John Oxley, she is trained by John Ward Jr. Talented is by Fusaichi Pegasus and cost Padua Stables $700,000 at the August yearling sales.

Edgar Prado rode For All We Know, solidifying his lead atop the jockey standings with his third win of the day.