03/17/2004 12:00AM

Galloping Gal taking unusual route to Oaks

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainers rarely use overnight turf stakes as a prep for a Grade 1 event on the dirt, but such will be the case here Sunday, when Ken McPeek sends out Galloping Gal for her 3-year-old debut in the $60,000 Via Borghese Stakes.

Galloping Gal showed promise on both turf and dirt as a 2-year-old. A daughter of Victory Gallop, Galloping Gal won all three of her grass starts, including Keeneland's Jesamine County Stakes. She was also second in the Grade 2 Alcibiades, despite a slow start and wide trip, over Keeneland's main track, before concluding her campaign with a wide-running fourth in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs.

Unraced since the Golden Rod, Galloping Gal had her 3-year-old campaign delayed when she became ill earlier this winter.

"She came down with a little virus when we got here, so I had to give her some time off," said McPeek. "I had hoped to run her last weekend in the Tampa Oaks, but she just wasn't quite ready."

McPeek said if all goes well Sunday he'll run Galloping Gal in the Ashland April 3 at Keeneland, and his ultimate goal for her is the Kentucky Oaks on April 30.

"She's a very good filly, but I don't expect her to run her best race on Sunday," said McPeek. "The plan is to get one under her belt and go from there. Hopefully to the Ashland."

Brice Blanc, Galloping Gal's regular rider last season, will again have the assignment in the 1 1/16-mile Via Borghese.

McPeek will depart Monday for Dubai, where he'll saddle Hard Buck the following weekend in the $2 million Sheema Classic. Hard Buck upset Balto Star in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap on Feb. 22

Pan American, Orchid top weekend

Balto Star is expected to make his next start as the 122-pound highweight in Saturday's Grade 2 Pan American Handicap. A small field is expected and should also include Man From Wicklow, Request for Parole, Quest Star, and Charge.

Charge will be seeking his first graded stakes victory in the 1 1/2-mile Pan Am. A son of Dynaformer, Charge returned from a 7 1/2-month layoff and came from off the pace to win a second-level allowance race Jan. 30.

"He's taking a pretty big jump, but he acts like he wants to go the distance, so we'll see what he's got," said Shug McGaughey, who trains Charge for owner-breeder Wheelock Whitney.

McGaughey also plans to run Miss Hellie in Saturday's $200,000 Orchid Handicap.

Ocean Silk may be the filly to beat in the Grade 2 Orchid. She figures to improve off her second-place finish behind Binya in Grade 3 The Very One Handicap on Feb. 28. The outing was Ocean Silk's first since October.

"She's ready to go Saturday," said Pat Byrne, the trainer of Ocean Silk. "I was very happy with her last race. It should set her up well for the Orchid. She'll need to improve a couple of lengths to get to the next level, but the potential is certainly there."

Stewards 3, Prado 0

Jockey Edgar Prado has won 5,000 races, but if recent results are any indication, it's a good bet very few were via a stewards' disqualification.

Prado has lodged three claims of foul over the past several weeks at three different tracks, including two this past weekend. All three were disallowed.

Prado claimed foul against Peace Rules, after finishing second aboard Saint Liam in the roughly run Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds; against Sir Shackleton, who drifted right into the path of Prado and Willy o'the Valley in a maiden race here Saturday; and against Coney Kitty, after being carried out past the middle of the track on Madeira Mist in Sunday's Grade 3 Hillsborough Handicap at Tampa Bay Downs.

"At least I'm very consistent," said Prado. "None of the numbers came down, even though everybody I've run into has told me all three of those horses should have been disqualified. Maybe I need to learn to be a more convincing speaker when I get on the phone with the stewards."

Prado said although none of the decisions have gone his way, he harbors no ill will toward the stewards.

"That's what they get paid for, although sometimes it makes it hard to have to come back and explain to the trainer why I had to take up or stop riding when the number doesn't come down," said Prado. "I think anybody else in my shoes would have claimed foul in each of those instances."

* Post time for each of the remaining Friday programs during the meet will be 2:45 p.m. Admission will be free until 2:30 p.m. on Fridays only.

There will also be live concerts at 7:30 p.m. on three of those Fridays, beginning this week with Styx.