06/12/2008 12:00AM

Derby trio back under the spires

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nobody appreciates a Derby horse like Churchill Downs horseplayers. So when three of the also-rans from the 134th Kentucky Derby make a collective encore Saturday, fans ought to be in for a treat in triplicate.

Recapturetheglory, Pyro, and Visionaire are the returnees from the May 3 Derby, and they form the core of favorites for the Grade 3 Northern Dancer Stakes, perhaps the most intriguing sideshow on the Stephen Foster undercard at Churchill. Four other 3-year-olds also are entered in the seventh running of the $175,000 Northern Dancer, a 1 1/16-mile race that kicks off the late pick four as the eighth of 11 races (post time, 4:49 p.m. Eastern).

Recapturetheglory, fifth in the Derby at 49-1 after being forwardly placed from the outset, was supposed to wheel back in the Preakness. But the colt incurred a setback when he spiked a fever on the Saturday between the two Triple Crown races, and trainer Louie Roussel chose to regroup by shipping the colt to his main summer base in Chicago. Recapturetheglory was vanned back to Churchill from there on Thursday.

Veteran jockey E.T. Baird will be back aboard Recapturetheglory, who figures as a major front-end threat in a race that shapes up without much pace. Recapturetheglory won the Illinois Derby in wire-to-wire fashion prior to his respectable effort at Churchill.

Pyro, eighth in the Derby as the third choice behind Big Brown and Colonel John, has worked like clockwork every Monday morning at Churchill since nine days after the Derby.

"We're just hoping to get back on track in this race," said trainer Steve Asmussen. "I was definitely disappointed with his Derby, so we've just backed up, tried to freshen him up. We'll try to have a very good second half of the year with him."

Shaun Bridgmohan, the only jockey to have ridden Pyro, will be up again Saturday.

Pyro is a confirmed closer, which has Asmussen concerned.

"He doesn't break real sharp, and he could definitely be a victim if the pace isn't fast enough," he said.

Likewise, Visionaire, the 12th-place Derby finisher, also lacks contending speed. In his best efforts, Visionaire has rallied from well behind in races featuring larger fields and a fast pace. Garrett Gomez has the call from trainer Michael Matz.

Besides the Derby horses, the Northern Dancer field also includes Tiz Now Tiz Then, Unbridled Vicar, My Pal Charlie, and Texas Wildcatter.

My Pal Charlie, second to Pyro as a 60-1 shot in the Louisiana Derby in March, will be trying to rebound off back-to-back fifth-place finishes in the Arkansas and Lone Star derbies.

"He has been doing great since his last race," said trainer Al Stall Jr.

Texas Wildcatter will have a familiar rival in Visionaire. When last they met in a dense fog cloaking the March 8 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, Texas Wildcatter appeared to be a sure winner, only to be nailed on the wire by Visionaire.

The Northern Dancer, named for the 1964 Kentucky Derby winner, was merely an overnight stakes on the Foster undercard for four years before Churchill integrated it into its main stakes schedule in 2002.

Chelokee, trained by Matz, won the 2007 running, fighting back to defeat the Asmussen-trained Zanjero by a neck.