04/23/2004 12:00AM

On the fence and wavering


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If April showers bring May flowers there ought to be roses aplenty on May 1, because Churchill Downs has been saturated for three days by a steady, soaking rain that forced a number of trainers to adjust the schedules of their Kentucky Derby contenders on Friday.

At the same time, events unfolding on both coasts and in Kentucky this weekend with the likes of St Averil, Sinister G, and Song of the Sword could significantly impact the make-up of the Derby field. Keeping a close eye on all of this was trainer Jason Orman, who along with owners Ernie Moody and Madeleine Paulson was going to be forced to make a game-time decision Saturday on whether to run Rock Hard Ten in the Derby Trial, or scratch and gamble that their horse could still get into the Derby one week later.

"We might gamble," Orman said. "Ernie plays poker, and Madeleine's not afraid to gamble."

In a perfect world, Orman preferred to run in the Derby without running in the Derby Trial. He has left open the possibility of running in the Derby Trial and coming back in the Derby. That may be necessary, because as of Friday, Rock Hard Ten did not have enough graded stakes earnings to crack into the 20-horse lineup should graded stakes earnings determine the final field.

Nevertheless, several horses could defect from the race imminently. The latest to join that list is Song of the Sword, who may skip the Derby to point for the May 15 Preakness Stakes, owner Ernie Paragallo said Friday afternoon.

"I'm much less than 50 percent sure I'm going to run," Paragallo said, citing the 20-horse field as the main reason. "I got a van going out of Lexington [to Delaware Park] on Sunday or Monday and there's a strong possibility he's going to be on it. Right now, I think that's the way I'd go."

Paragallo expressed surprise with how many horses are pointing to the Derby "as badly as some of them have run. But they're pointing for it."

In addition, Value Plus is expected to defect from the race, St Averil's chances of participating were to be determined by a workout at Santa Anita on Saturday, and the status of Sinister G continues to be cloudy. Sinister G coughed on Friday, as he did Thursday, and a workout scheduled for Saturday was postponed.

"After he jogged this morning and we took off his bridle, he coughed," trainer John Toscano Jr. said Friday at Belmont Park. "We'll see if he is all right [Saturday] and will gallop him before maybe working him Monday. He's still on antibiotics and has to be 110 percent to run. It's a Catch-22 situation because he can get better, but the antibiotics are liable to dull him."

With a number of key workouts scheduled for Sunday and Monday, coupled with the inclement weather, Friday was a particularly uneventful day at Churchill Downs.

John Kimmel, the trainer of Friends Lake, elected to keep the Florida Derby winner under the barn's shed row and out of the rain. He intends to work the horse Sunday.

One horse who thoroughly enjoyed the sloppy conditions was Arkansas Derby winner Smarty Jones, who galloped strongly while being accompanied by a pony that was ridden by trainer John Servis.

"He was pulling me out of the saddle. You could tell the way he's acting that he's ready to work," said Servis, who hoped to work Smarty Jones on Saturday, in between forecasted storms.

The bright yellow Derby saddle towel issued to all runners is used inconsistently by trainers. Servis wanted to use the one that says Smarty Jones, but it was missing Friday morning after hanging on a clothes line at the barn Thursday night. Servis was hoping his night watchperson had taken it for safekeeping, but was worried it had been stolen by an admiring souvenir hunter.

At Keeneland, Lion Heart, the runner-up in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, merely jogged over a sloppy racecourse. His trainer, Patrick Biancone, was not concerned that the interrupted training would compromise his colt next week. "It's okay. He's fit," Biancone said.

Lion Heart will come to Churchill Downs on Monday or Tuesday for a workout or strong gallop, but he will otherwise remain at Keeneland until the morning of the Derby, Biancone said.

Read the Footnotes, the Fountain of Youth Stakes winner, arrived at Churchill Downs on Friday afternoon after a flight from Florida.

Action This Day, Imperialism, and Pro Prado, who had workouts on Thursday, merely walked around their barn's shed row on Friday.

"I'm glad I worked [Thursday]," Richard Mandella, the trainer of Action This Day, said as rain fell outside his barn.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Karen M. Johnson