02/16/2004 1:00AM

Derby chase picks up pace

Read the Footnotes (left) and Second of June provided a gutsy finish to the Fountain of Youth, but hope for a Florida Derby rematch was short-lived.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Read the Footnotes and Second of June looked like the leaders of the pack on the road to the Kentucky Derby with their thrilling duel in Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes, but only the victorious Read the Footnotes will head to the next stop.

Second of June's quest came to an abrupt end on Saturday. He came out of the Fountain of Youth with a fractured cannon bone, and thus became the first significant casualty of this year's Derby chase.

Bill Cesare, the trainer of Second of June, said the colt had a condylar fracture. "It's not displaced, it's not real wide, but it's there," he said.

Surgery was performed Sunday afternoon by Dr. Stephen Selway at a clinic at Gulfstream Park. Three screws were used to fuse the fracture and promote healing, Cesare said.

"It went well," Cesare said Monday morning from his barn at Calder Race Course, where he is based. Cesare said Second of June would probably not return to the races until the end of the year.

Second of June's injury dampened what otherwise was an outstanding edition of the Fountain of Youth, which was the highlight of a sensational day of racing at Gulfstream. Read the Footnotes won by a neck, with Second of June 7 1/2 lengths clear of third-place Silver Wagon. Read the Footnotes earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 113, the highest by any 3-year-old this year.

Also at Gulfstream on Saturday, Limehouse won the Hutcheson Stakes, and allowance victories were scored by Derby contenders Birdstone, Swingforthefences, and Value Plus.

On Sunday at Fair Grounds, the rapidly improving Gradepoint rallied to take the Risen Star Stakes from Mr. Jester.

Read the Footnotes was making his first start in 2 1/2 months in the Fountain of Youth. The effort was taxing and drew immediate concern from trainer Rick Violette. But by Monday morning, Violette was less anxious.

"He ate up last night and he's bright," Violette said at the Palm Meadows training center. "I was really proud he made the leap from 2 to 3. That was a question. You knew he had talent. You weren't sure if he was just a mature 2-year-old."

Violette said Read the Footnotes would make his next start in Gulfstream's Florida Derby on March 13. The plan is then to return to Aqueduct - where Read the Footnotes won the Nashua and Remsen stakes last fall - for the April 10 Wood Memorial, which would be his final prep for the May 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

The Florida Derby is also a potential spot for Champagne Stakes winner Birdstone, who earned a Beyer Figure of 93 when he won a second-level allowance race on Saturday. His trainer, Nick Zito, has yet to commit to that race, although he said Monday, "We're definitely going to look at it." The Florida Derby makes the most sense in terms of scheduling, considering that Zito said he wants to take Birdstone to the Wood for his final Derby prep.

"It's just a matter of how we get to the Wood Memorial," Zito said.

One of the intriguing aspects of the Florida Derby will be the choice made by jockey Jerry Bailey, who is the regular rider for both Birdstone and Read the Footnotes. In addition, Bailey's main client, trainer Bobby Frankel, said he is going to bring Sham Stakes winner Master David to the Florida Derby.

"Obviously we'd like to have Jerry, but I'd rather have the horse," Violette said. "I think he's the real deal. I hope Jerry sticks with us."

Bailey also rode Swingforthefences for Violette on Saturday when Swingforthefences beat a first-level allowance field going 1 1/8 miles, earning a Beyer Figure of 96. Since both Read the Footnotes and Swingforthefences are owned by Seth Klarman's Klaravich Stables, they will be kept apart "unless both get to Churchill," Violette said.

On Monday, Violette said Swingforthefences would make his next start in either the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 7, or the Tampa Bay Derby on March 14. Both are at 1 1/16 miles.

The Louisiana Derby and Tampa Bay Derby are also under consideration for Limehouse and Value Plus, both trained by Todd Pletcher. Limehouse earned a Beyer Figure of 99 for his victory in the seven-furlong Hutcheson. Pletcher acknowledged that the Louisiana Derby's $600,000 purse is far more tempting than the $250,000 offered at Tampa Bay, but the Tampa Bay race affords an additional week between starts.

"It's whether the additional week will benefit him," Pletcher said at the Palm Meadows training center.

Value Plus ran faster in his seven-furlong allowance race than Limehouse did in the Hutcheson, and thus earned a superior figure of 108.

"As fast as he ran, and as well as he ran, it didn't seem like it was a particularly taxing race on him," Pletcher said.

Pletcher said the Florida Derby is an option for Value Plus, in addition to the Louisiana Derby and Tampa Bay Derby. "At this point, we want to get him around two turns in his next two starts before the Derby," Pletcher said.

Whoever ships in from Florida for the Louisiana Derby will have to get past Gradepoint, who owns the home-field advantage. He earned a Beyer Figure of 96 for his victory in the Risen Star.

"He was a little heavy going into the race," his trainer, Neil Howard, said Monday morning at Fair Grounds. "He's lazy in the morning, and it's hard to get him that fit. This should set him up well."

Howard added, "In a perfect world, it'd be nice to have an extra week. But his schedule has been pretty light. It's time to pick up the pace now."

Mr. Jester, the Risen Star runner-up, will make his next start in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 20, trainer Steve Wren said.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Marcus Hersh