04/27/2005 11:00PM

Former Derby aspirants meet in Withers instead


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Several horses that were fringe players on the Triple Crown trail but who probably prefer shorter distances are scheduled to meet in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Withers Stakes.

, the Gotham Stakes winner and Wood Memorial runner-up, Proud Accolade, last year's Champagne winner, and B. B. Best, the third-place finisher in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby head the list of eight 3-year-olds set to run in the Withers's one-turn mile over Aqueduct's main track.

Until Monday, trainer Shug McGaughey was seriously contemplating running Survivalist in the Kentucky Derby. Despite a solid workout by Survivalist on Monday, McGaughey opted to skip that race and point for the Withers. Since Survivalist is 2 for 3 going a one-turn mile, the Withers seems like a logical spot.

"That goes into my thinking too,'' McGaughey said. "I'm not sure he wants to run a mile and a quarter. He finished second going a mile and an eighth, but it wasn't like he was flying at the end.''

Survivalist took advantage of a swift early pace to win the Gotham. But McGaughey is quick to note that when Survivalist won his maiden, he was up close to a dawdling pace. With War Plan and Scrappy T in the Withers field, the pace should be solid.

"I think he'll be a little sharper Saturday," said McGaughey, citing an in-company five-furlong move that was clocked in 59.62 seconds. "He's been pretty sharp since the Wood. I hope he's in the race without taking his race away from him.''

, trained by Todd Pletcher, is 4 for 4 around one turn and 0 for 3 going two turns. He won the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes going 7 1/2 furlongs at Gulfstream before finishing sixth at 2-5 in the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway going 1 1/16 miles. Pletcher blamed the muddy track for that performance and indicated he may scratch if the track is off here on Saturday.

B. B. Best should appreciate cutting back to a one-turn mile after setting the pace and tiring in the Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth at nine furlongs. He has handled the slop in the past and could work out a good stalking trip under Jorge Chavez.

finished just three-quarters of a length behind Survivalist in the Wood. Trainer Robert Bailes said the saddle slipped on jockey Rafael Bejarano at the five-furlong pole, which he believes cost his horse a shot at second.

Park Avenue Ball won the 2004 Futurity, a one-turn mile race at Belmont, and was second behind Proud Accolade in the Hutcheson.