03/01/2004 12:00AM

Derby training picks up steam

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BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - The calendar has turned to March and preparations for the 129th Kentucky Derby on May 1 are beginning to intensify. On March 13, Gulfstream Park will host south Florida's premier 3-year-old race, the $1 million Florida Derby, and many of the race's participants have put their training in high gear.

As of Monday, the Florida Derby field stood at six, with Frisky Spider and Tapit also under consideration. The six confirmed runners include Read the Footnotes, Master David, Value Plus, The Cliff's Edge, Sir Oscar, and Friends Lake.

Value Plus, an impressive allowance winner Feb. 14, worked five furlongs in 1:02.80 Sunday morning at Palm Meadows.

"We don't ask him to do much in the morning, he did it easily and galloped out extremely well," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "With him, like always, we just got to hope he gets away cleanly and falls into his rhythm. This is an opportunity to find out for sure if two turns is what he wants to do. Certainly, watching him train, he gives you the impression he'll run all day."

In addition to Value Plus, Pletcher has three other horses pointed down the Triple Crown trail: Shaniko and Pollard's Vision are headed to Sunday's Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, and Limehouse, the Hutcheson Stakes winner, will run in the $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 14.

Limehouse, owned by Cot Campbell's Dogwood Stable, was under consideration for the Louisiana Derby, but Pletcher felt the extra week would help. Campbell picked the Tampa Bay Derby over the Lane's End Stakes on March 20 because he wanted to keep Limehouse in Florida.

On Monday, Limehouse worked a half-mile in 50.60 seconds at Palm Meadows.

Trainer Nick Zito is almost as loaded as Pletcher, with Birdstone, Eurosilver, and The Cliff's Edge. Monday, The Cliff's Edge breezed five furlongs in 1:01.20, his first work since finishing second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa.

Zito said the Florida Derby should tell him if The Cliff's Edge remains a viable Derby prospect.

"Absolutely," said Zito. "We just want a good race out of him."

Master David, winner of the Sham Stakes, worked five furlongs in 1:01.20 at Hollywood Park. A 3-year-old trained by Bobby Frankel, Master David will likely work once more before shipping to Florida next week.

Friends Lake gets more schooling

When Friends Lake finished third in the Holy Bull Stakes here Jan. 17, trainer John Kimmel attributed part of the dull effort to Friends Lake's headstrong ways in the paddock. In preparation for the Florida Derby, Kimmel shipped Friends Lake from his Payson Park home to Gulfstream, where he schooled three days in the paddock and galloped twice over the main track.

"He was running everybody over Holy Bull day," Kimmel said of Friends Lake, a New York-bred. "He's so much different now. If he behaves like he has been, you're going to see his 'A' race."

Kimmel said Friends Lake was tough during Saturday's schooling session, partly because of the nearby concert being performed by Dave Mason. Friends Lake did not school while the Beach Boys were playing Sunday, and there was no concert on Monday.

"The music's not an issue, I don't think," Kimmel said.

Kimmel planned to work Friends Lake at Payson on Tuesday, and he will also ship him to Gulfstream a day or two before the Florida Derby for another schooling session and a gallop over the track.

Daydreaming impressive in allowance

Daydreaming has always shown trainer Shug McGaughey she has a world of talent. Monday, Daydreaming also proved she has a lot of heart as well after overcoming an eventful trip to easily defeat a strong field of entry-level allowance competition that included the previously undefeated Cherry Bomb.

Daydreaming and jockey Jerry Bailey had to go to plan B after being forced extremely wide and well off the early pace as a result of a bumping incident approaching the clubhouse turn. Daydreaming was still nearly 10 lengths off the lead when she began her rally leaving the half- mile pole. She continued wide entering the stretch and finished full of run once straightening away for the drive to win going away.

Cherry Bomb, the even-money favorite, forced the pace and finished third before eventually being placed second following the disqualification of Soul of the Cat.

"I think she's a pretty good filly," McGaughey said after the race. "She went right to her nose and lost all chance in the Spinaway and had a problem with a back ankle coming out of the Frizette, after which I gave her some time to get over it. I was really pleased with her effort today because she took all the worst of it, got pretty far back but still overcame the trouble to win."

McGaughey said he will wait before deciding on what might be next for Daydreaming, a daughter of the stakes winner Get Lucky and a full sister to Accelerator.

"I'll let her get over this one first before looking for the next spot," said McGaughey. "Jerry said he got into her pretty good because he thought he had a chance to win the race even after all that trouble. Right now the most likely options would be another allowance race or the Comely."

McGaughey is also holding off on selecting a definite spot for Storm Flag Flying's next start. The 2002 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies champion was an impressive winner of her 2004 debut here last week.

"I might run her here in the Banshee Breeze or wait until we get back to New York for the Distaff," said McGaughey.

The Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap, at seven furlongs, is March 27 at Aqueduct. The Banshee Breeze, a 1 1/16-mile race, is April 4 at Gulfstream.

Kitten's Joy could go back to dirt

Don't call it Derby Fever, just call it an elevated temperature. But the connections of Kitten's Joy, a winner of four straight races on turf, including the Grade 3 Palm Beach, are considering putting him back on the dirt to see if he could be a candidate for the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Dale Romans said that Jerry Bailey would work Kitten's Joy, a 3-year-old, on dirt at Palm Meadows in the near future. If Bailey says Kitten's Joy handles the dirt as well as the turf, Kitten's Joy could start in either the Lane's End Stakes on March 20 at Turfway Park or the Blue Grass Stakes on April 10 at Keeneland.

"There's no pressure from [owner Ken] Ramsey to do anything, but we'll keep our options open," said Romans, who was planning to run Kitten's Joy next in the Transylvania Stakes on April 3 at Keeneland. "As much as I'm trying to stick to the conservative route, it'd be awful tough to pass up an opportunity with a top 3-year-old."

Silver Wagon to have surgery

Silver Wagon, the Grade 1 Hopeful winner who was diagnosed last week with bone chips in both knees, will undergo surgery Wednesday at the Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic in Lexington, Ky. Dr. Larry Bramlage will perform the surgery.

Mohammed Moubarak, the racing manager for Buckram Oak Farm, said Silver Wagon would convalesce at Buckram Oak's Kentucky farm. Moubarak hopes Silver Wagon will be able to return to the races in the fall.

"It'd be hard to make Saratoga," Moubarak said. "We'll give him as long as he needs and more. You're never going to run out of races for that kind of horse. He needs to be sound and healthy and go from there."

Mooji Moo set for Hurricane Bertie

Mooji Moo, the upset winner of the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita in January, will definitely run in Sunday's $100,000 Hurricane Bertie Stakes. On Monday, Mooji Moo worked a slow five furlongs in 1:04 at Palm Meadows.

Trainer Tim Hills said he caught the last three-eighths of the move in 38 seconds.

"She's hard to get [right]; it's either too fast or too slow," Hills said. "But she finished well, and that's what we wanted. If she comes out of it well, we'll go for it."

Hills said Manual Aguilar would ride Mooji Moo in the Hurricane Bertie.