07/31/2003 11:00PM

Flying Notes finally back on track

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AUBURN, Wash. - When last seen in the afternoon, Flying Notes was scorching the 1 1/8 miles of the $125,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby in 1:45.40, the fastest nine-furlong clocking in North America for 2002.

That was a full 11 months ago, and things have not gone smoothly in the interim for Flying Notes, who will return to action in Sunday's $50,000 Governor's Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs.

After his smashing 11 1/4-length victory in last year's Derby, trainer Bud Klokstad was ready to test Flying Notes against the best of his division in California. Flying Notes never trained to Klokstad's satisfaction at Bay Meadows, however, and after he suffered a minor injury the trainer elected to turn him out and wait for his 4-year-old campaign.

It has been a long wait.

"I brought him back in late, then I brought him along slowly to make sure he was 100 percent," Klokstad said. "I put an awful lot of works into him."

Klokstad deemed Flying Notes ready to run in an allowance sprint scheduled for June 26, but that race failed to fill. Changing course quickly, Klokstad worked his star a mile the next morning with the intention of entering him in the 1 1/16-mile Independence Day Handicap, but Flying Notes suffered an attack of colic a few days before that race and remained in his stall.

Regrouping again, Klokstad pointed Flying Notes for the Governor's, which will be his only prep for the Grade 3, $250,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 24. Flying Notes, a Kentucky-bred son of French Deputy, worked a strong six furlongs in 1:11.80 on July 17, but in his most recent work on July 25 he went five furlongs in 1:03, which ranked 19th of 21 drills at the distance that morning.

"Just as he broke off for his work, a horse got loose on the track, and the rider had to take hold of him," Klokstad said. "He just sat on him because he didn't know what the loose horse was going to do, so that was why the time was so slow."

Klokstad admitted he would have preferred a stronger final prep for Flying Notes, but he declined to view the aborted workout as a ready-made excuse.

"He's plenty fit enough, so I'm not really worried," Klokstad said. "I don't see any reason why he won't run a heck of a race."

Total Limit a tough challenger

Flying Notes figures to be severely tested by Total Limit, who arrived at trainer Grant Forster's barn three weeks ago to prepare for engagements in the Governor's and the Longacres Mile.

Total Limit, a 4-year-old son of Boundary who races for Herman Sarkowsky, had three wins and three seconds from just seven starts while racing for trainer Gary Mandella in Southern California. In his best showing to date, he was beaten a head by Debonair Joe in the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita in December, when he covered seven furlongs in 1:22.40. He followed that effort with an allowance win at seven furlongs and a sixth to Aldebaran in the Grade 1 San Carlos Handicap in March, then was freshened before returning with a good second against allowance company in a 6 1/2-furlong race at Hollywood on July 3.

"They shipped him up here right after that race and I have worked him twice," said Forster. "He worked brilliantly both times. He has a lot of speed, but he is quite manageable and it looks as though he'll do whatever is asked of him. He is just a very classy individual, very professional and very intelligent. I'm looking forward to sending him out there and seeing what he can do."

Handy N Bold near finale

Sunday's stakes could be the final appearance for Handy N Bold, whose record-equaling nine local stakes wins include victories in the 1999, 2000, and 2001 renewals of the Governor's.

Now 8, Handy N Bold has gone unplaced in four starts this season. He appears to have lost little if any of his speed, but he hasn't been finishing as well as he did during his heyday. In his last start, in optional $50,000 claiming company on July 4, he faded to fifth after showing the way through a half mile in 44.20.

"I think that was my fault," said trainer Charles Essex. "I worked him a half-mile in 45.80 two days before that race, and it took too much out of him. I took a different approach to this one. I worked him an easy six furlongs a week ago, and he finished up strongly. I'm hoping he'll run better on Sunday."

The Governor's is the last sprint stakes on the schedule for the British Columbia-bred Handy N Bold, so unless he runs a corker and earns a berth in the Longacres Mile, he is likely to be retired after Sunday's race.

"This will probably be his last race," Essex confirmed. "He has been a warrior, but he is nearing the end of the line. I'd just like to see him run one more big race."