04/02/2006 11:00PM

Four could have return bout in Derby

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Barbaro (left) outduels Sharp Humor to win Saturday's Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Those two, along with Sunriver and Flashy Bull, could be next headed for the Kentucky Derby in May.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Last Saturday's $1 million at Gulfstream Park could produce as many as four starters for the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

As expected, the connections of Florida Derby winner Barbaro, runner-up Sharp Humor, and third-place finisher Sunriver all confirmed their intentions to go to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Flashy Bull, who finished seventh as the 4-1 second choice, came out of the race with a case of the thumps - an electrolyte imbalance - and will also be pointed for the Derby, depending on his physical condition over the next several weeks.

Barbaro will go into the Kentucky Derby undefeated in five starts after stalking and then outgaming Sharp Humor to post a half-length victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. The win was the first over a fast main track for Barbaro, a son of Dynaformer, who is trained by Michael Matz.

"He came out of the race in pretty good shape and cleaned up everything in his feed tub last night," Matz said Sunday morning. "Obviously the next few days will be defining ones, but at the moment I'd say all is a go for the Derby."

Matz continued to praise the job jockey Edgar Prado did aboard Barbaro, who raced in perfect striking position despite breaking from post 10 in the 11-horse field.

"Edgar did a terrific job," said Matz. "He rode a masterful race from post 10, and I thought this colt ran a tremendous race. I'm so proud of him and what he's accomplished. He gives everything he has and does everything he's asked to do. This was the first time he really had to fight with another horse, and I think he's going to learn a lot from this race."

Matz said he will likely keep Barbaro at Palm Meadows until sometime next week. Then he will ship to Keeneland and on to Churchill Downs one week before the Derby.

Matz said he is not concerned about the five weeks between the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.

"Five weeks is no problem," said Matz. "Everybody makes a big deal about it, but we should have a fresh horse, and I certainly don't think it's a big deal for this horse."

Matz also admitted Barbaro may still be a better horse on turf than dirt.

"Maybe he is a better turf horse," Matz said with a smile. "But he's not so bad on dirt either."

Trainer Dale Romans was in better spirits Sunday morning than he was immediately after Sharp Humor fell just short in the Florida Derby.

"I feel a lot better about finishing second today than I did yesterday," said Romans. "I was really pleased by the way he ran, and I'm anxious to get him back home to Kentucky and start preparing him for Derby."

Sharp Humor is scheduled to fly to Churchill Downs later this week.

Like Matz, Romans said he has no trouble with the five weeks in between races and says he will not alter Sharp Humor's front-running style.

"The five weeks will give us a little extra time to work with him, and I'm certainly not going to ask him to do something now that he's never done in his life," said Romans. "I just wouldn't want to be the horse hooking him early in the Derby."

Pletcher said he was also pleased with Sunriver's effort Saturday. Sunriver was steadied and shuffled around the first turn and was also forced to lose considerable ground around the second turn.

"My biggest concern right now is getting him into the Derby," said Pletcher. "The $100,000 in graded money he earned Saturday probably puts him on the bubble. If he gets in, fine. If not, we'll probably wait and go to the Preakness."

Like Sharp Humor, Sunriver was scheduled to ship to Churchill Downs during the week.

McLaughlin said he could see immediately after the race that Flashy Bull had a case of the thumps, an electrolyte imbalance that he described as "putting a horse out of rhythm" and which causes a horse's whole body to vibrate.

"We've never had a horse run any good who came out of a race with the thumps, so we did have an excuse," said McLaughlin. "We'll just see how he goes over the next few weeks, but right now we're pointing for the Derby. Last year Closing Argument finished third, beaten 10 lengths in the Blue Grass, and finished second in the Derby. Flashy Bull was also beaten 10 lengths while finishing seventh in the Florida Derby."

Flashy Bull was scheduled to ship to Keeneland on Tuesday.