07/30/2007 11:00PM

Ermine needs some time off


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - As the field left the backstretch in last Saturday's Go for Wand Handicap, Ermine was in perfect stalking position along the rail to earn her second career Grade 1 victory. Instead, she retreated steadily through the final three furlongs, ultimately finishing sixth and last, much to the disappointment of trainer Ronnie Werner, who did not have to wait long to discover the reason for the sub-par effort.

"She bled pretty significantly," Werner said Tuesday. "Probably a nine on a scale of 10. What's so shocking is that she's never done anything like this before. It's a shame because she was doing so good and the jock had her in a nice spot. Everything just seemed to be working out so perfectly."

Werner will now give Ermine, winner of the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap earlier this season, some time off to recuperate with hopes that the damage will not be too severe.

"I'm shipping her to Lexington, where she'll get some treatments in a hyperbaric chamber," Werner said, referring to the high-pressure chambers that are used to treat tissue injuries. "Once she gets over this I'll probably send her to my barn at Churchill Downs and try to breeze her in maybe three to four weeks. She seems to like that track, and if all goes well we'll try to get her back in the swing of things again. I might even try her on the grass. If not, then we'll have to give her some significant time off to recuperate."

Chelokee passes on W.Va. Derby

Another top horse who will be getting some time off is trainer Michael Matz's promising 3-year-old Chelokee. Matz had been pointing Chelokee, a son of Cherokee Run, to Saturday's Grade 3 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Race Track.

"I've worked him twice since his last start and just wasn't happy with the way he was going," Matz said Tuesday. "It's a shame because I was really excited about his last race and the way he showed a bit of heart coming back at horses the way he did."

Matz was referring to the Grade 3 Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 16, where Chelokee came on again to outgame Zanjero by a neck to earn his first graded stakes win. The victory was the third in the last four starts for Chelokee, whose lone loss during that span was a troubled third-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

Appealing Zophie looks ready for Test

About two hours after giving Curlin his final prep for Sunday's Haskell Invitational, trainer Steve Asmussen sent out Appealing Zophie to work a half-mile in 50.03 seconds on the Oklahoma training track. Afterwards, he declared Appealing Zophie a likely starter for Saturday's Grade 1 Test Stakes.

"As long as she comes out of the work okay, she'll run in the Test," said Asmussen. "She went off a little slower than I'd have liked, but she finished strong and looked good doing it this morning."

Asmussen acknowledged that Appealing Zophie has been disappointing in her last three starts, but he is hoping to see an improved performance on Saturday.

"Her last three races have been horrible," said Asmussen. "But there were different circumstances to explain all of them. Physically, she's doing very well. I'm pleased how she's been training since coming to Saratoga, and being a Grade 1 here at Saratoga makes the Test a very attractive race."

The Test already holds some fond memories for Asmussen.

"One of my favorite victories was Lady Tak's win in the 2003 Test," Asmussen recalled. "The way she ran that day was incredible. She went seven furlongs in 20 and four-fifths [1:20.83], won by 4 1/2 lengths, and beat the Oaks winner, Bird Town."

Lady Tak returned to Saratoga the following summer to win the Grade 1 Ballerina Handicap.

Corinthian prepping for Woodward

Corinthian was not on the official work tab Tuesday morning, but he did go through a demanding gallop that was almost as strenuous as an actual work.

"He galloped good and strong today," said trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "He went a mile and five-eighths at better than a two-minute lick at Oklahoma. It was like a little work. I'll probably bring him back in about four days for a real work."

Corinthian is pointing for the Grade 1 Woodward on Sept. 1.

Jerkens also reported that Corinthian's baby brother, the undefeated 3-year-old Vitruvius, will not start in the Lemon Drop Kid Stakes here next week.

"I thought about bringing him back in that overnight stakes but felt it was just a little too quick, especially to run him a mile and one-eighth," said Jerkens. "It just would have been too tough. I'll probably wait until the next book and look for an allowance race."

Vitruvius, perfect in two starts, has recovered from a severe skin disease that has kept him sidelined since the spring.

Vasquez returns as exercise rider

Former rider Jacinto Vasquez is back at Saratoga this summer galloping horses for the Calder-based trainer Mike McDonald, who is stabling regularly here for the first time.

"This is the first time I've been up here in about five or six years," said Vasquez, 63, who was best known as the regular rider for Ruffian.

Vasquez, who retired from the saddle in 1996, said he has spent the last 10 years training, buying, and selling horses as well as galloping on the farms in Ocala.

"I ran into Mike at the recent Ocala sales, we got to talking, and he offered me a job here for the summer," said Vasquez. "I get on about four or five horses a morning. It keeps me fit and it's nice to come back and see some of my old friends. I have plenty of good memories of Saratoga, like the day I beat Secretariat, but I really don't miss the track or riding."