02/22/2002 12:00AM

Finding a prep for Saarland no easy task


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Two swings, two misses. The allowance race that trainer Shug McGaughey is seeking for Kentucky Derby candidate to fill for both Saturday and Sunday, which has McGaughey making contingency plans.

Saarland has not raced since he rallied to win the Nov. 24 Remsen Stakes, a race that stamped him as a solid Derby prospect. Ideally, McGaughey wants to get a seven-furlong prep into the stretch-running colt before going back against tougher company at longer distances.

The seven-furlong race that failed to fill Saturday and Sunday was restricted to 3-year-olds eligible for two-other-than conditions. Both times, the race died with three entrants. For Monday, racing secretary Dave Bailey rewrote the conditions so that any 3-year-old is eligible; entries were to be drawn Saturday.

"We'll enter back in that," McGaughey said Friday afternoon. "If that doesn't go, then we'll probably just run him in the Gotham off works."

The Gotham, at one mile, will be run March 17 at Aqueduct.

"It seems like from Gulfstream, Calder, Payson Park, and Palm Beach Downs, they could round up six horses to fill a two-other-than, but I guess not," McGaughey said. "That's just the way it is. We may just have to go on to the next town and see what happens."

McGaughey has said the April 12 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct will be the main Derby prep for Saarland.

Take the Cake only second-best filly in barn

Regardless of how Take the Cake runs Sunday for Carl Nafzger in the Davona Dale Stakes, the veteran trainer still figures to hold the strongest hand when the biggest race of the meet for 3-year-old fillies, the Bonnie Miss Stakes, is run here March 15.

That's because Nafzger trains one of the top fillies in the country in Belterra, who continues on schedule toward the Bonnie Miss. Nafzger sent through an easy breeze Friday morning, as the filly was timed in 49.80 seconds for a half-mile.

"It's what I call an empty work," said Nafzger. "We'll put her through something a lot more demanding Monday.

"You have them do something real easy, then you go get the chicken the next time. What we did today is a lot like what you do when you're setting them up for a race."

Take the Cake is a solid filly, having won three of four starts, including the Grade 3 Forward Gal. But she is overshadowed by Belterra, an Unbridled filly who has been an easy winner in all three career starts. The Grade 2 Bonnie Miss will be her first start since she won the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24.

No trip to New York for Booklet

The last two Kentucky Derby winners, Fusaichi Pegasus and Monarchos, used the Wood Memorial as their final prep races.

So as trainer John T. Ward Jr. looks a little farther down the road for Booklet, wouldn't he want to use the Wood again?

"No," said Ward, who trained Monarchos.

Booklet, winner of the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, will go for a Gulfstream sweep when he runs next in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 16.

After that, "we'll probably want to look for a race that's a little easier on him," said Ward.

"I really think the Wood is a big reason Fusaichi and Monarchos did so well in the Derby," he added. "Aqueduct is the kind of track to give you an education. But this colt is not short on seasoning, so we won't be going there."

Sir Bear's target race changes

When Sir Bear's name appeared on the Calder work tab showing he had breezed a mile in 1:48 on Thursday morning, the first thought that came to mind was that trainer Ralph Ziadie was cranking up his three-time Grade 1 winner for the Creme Fraiche Handicap on March 10.

But Ziadie quickly nixed that notion and confirmed Sir Bear will make his next start in defense of his title in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 30.

"He really went in more like 1:51 then 1:48," Ziadie said of Thursday's work. "It was more of an open gallop that went faster than I would have liked than a real workout. Right now we have no plans to run in the Creme Fraiche. We'll await the Gulfstream Park Handicap and take our chances in there."

One would have to think those chances are pretty good considering the 9-year-old Sir Bear won the race last year and is coming off a game victory over Red Bullet in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap here earlier in the meet.

"Right now my job is just to keep him happy and fit," said Ziadie. "I had to do something with him because he was really kicking the barn down. I keep looking at him day in and day out and the way he acts I can't believe this horse is 9 years old."

McCarthy back from vacation

Jockey Mike McCarthy was back galloping horses here this week and will return to action on Thursday.

McCarthy, who dominated the jockey standings at Delaware Park from 1996-2000 before being unseated by Eclipse Award-winning apprentice Jeremy Rose last summer, has been a regular here for the past several winters. Like always, however, he does not accept any mounts until midway through the meet.

"I like to take some time off this time of year to be with my family," said McCarthy, who at 5 feet, 9 inches is one of the tallest jockeys in the country. "And also to give my body a little rest."

McCarthy said he plans on doing a lot of riding the remainder of the meet for trainer Allen Iwinski and many of his other Delaware clients. He plans to remain here until April 20.

First round of Turf Vivor completed

The opening round of Gulfstream Park's Turf-Vivor Handicapping contest ended Friday with Paul Bendetti leading 119 other competitors with 60 points. The contest, which offers $128,000 in prize money including $100,000 to the winner, ends on Sunday. The top four finishers also qualify for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship.

Bendetti was followed on the leaderboard by Benjamin O'Connell (53.8), Myles Richards (51.8), Patrick Cronin (51.2) and Stephan Franklin (48.6). Only the top 16 players at the end of Saturday's second qualifying round will advance to the finals on Sunday. The cutoff for the final spot at the end of Friday's round was 34.4 points.

* Stall applications for the 2002 Calder meet are now available and are due by March 15.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch