04/26/2005 11:00PM

In the Gold could give Zito more Oaks memories


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With benefit of hindsight, trainer Nick Zito can now pinpoint the race that marked the rebirth of his stable: the Kentucky Oaks.

"That's the race that kind of got us going again," said Zito.

Indeed, it was two years ago when Bird Town, an 18-1 shot, won the Oaks on a weekend during which Zito was without a Kentucky Derby starter for the second straight year. Understandably, having endured something of a dry spell before that race, Zito now has a soft spot in his heart for the Oaks - and the day before he runs what would be a record-tying five starters in the May 7 Derby at Churchill Downs, he will take another shot at Derby Eve glory when he saddles In the Gold as a major contender in the 131st Oaks.

In the Gold, owned by Live Oak Plantation, figures as one of the secondary wagering choices behind Sis City, who could be an odds-on choice. In the Gold has remained at Keeneland since her sharp triumph in the April 14 Beaumont Stakes and was scheduled to have her final prerace work there Thursday or Friday.

Sis City beat In the Gold by 16 lengths in the Davona Dale in early February, so turning the tables in the Oaks "might be pretty hard to do, but we're going to try," said Zito. "Every race is different, you know."

Besides Sis City and In the Gold, the other 3-year-old fillies likely for the Oaks include Dance Away Capote, Dixie Talking, Memorette, Runway Model, and Summerly. Churchill officials are trying to land another starter or two.

Sis City, stabled in Barn 41 at Churchill, is trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., who is scheduled to return Friday night from New York.

Madcap Escapade avoids collision

Madcap Escapade narrowly avoided a potentially disastrous situation while nearing the completion of a five-furlong work shortly after the renovation break Wednesday at Churchill Downs.

Madcap Escapade, among the elite fillies and mares in the country, had just turned into the stretch when a horse from trainer Ken McPeek's barn began acting erratically, backpedaling toward the inner rail a few yards before the finish line. Fortunately, exercise rider Pedro Velez spotted the unexpected obstacle in his path early enough to throttle down on Madcap Escapade. Velez managed to find just enough room to maneuver her around the McPeek runner and between a third horse who had also gotten caught up in the congestion near the wire.

Madcap Escapade had reeled off fractions of 23.18 seconds, 35.08, and 46.74 over the muddy track before being forced to hit the brakes nearing the end of her final prep for the Grade 1 Humana Distaff Handicap on Derby Day. As it was, her final time of 1:00.78 was the fastest of 12 at the distance on a tab that included Kentucky Derby candidate Consolidator.

"I watched the work from the half-mile pole after breaking her off with the pony, and because of the tents in the infield I couldn't see exactly what happened," trainer Frank Brothers said at his barn an hour after the harrowing incident. "But I could tell something was wrong because I knew her momentum had been broken. Luckily, she appears to have come out of it okay, and I had the right rider on her at the time. The wrong rider might have panicked and the results could have been disastrous."

Madcap Escapade registered a pair of impressive stakes wins to start her 2005 campaign and will be heavily favored in a Humana Distaff field that is expected to include Lady Tak.

Derby Trial may produce a Derby horse

"Derby Trial" long has been a misnomer, since the race has produced substantially more starters for the Preakness in the last 20 years or so than for the Derby.

This year, there is the chance that Saturday's Trial might actually produce a Derby starter. Don't Get Mad, the likely favorite for owner B. Wayne Hughes, is a possible Derby starter, but only if the colt runs well Saturday and Hughes's other Derby hopeful, Greeley's Galaxy, gets excluded.

Don't Get Mad is one of about seven 3-year-olds expected for the one-mile Trial, which was a Grade 3 race until losing its grade after the 2004 running. Other prospects are Around the Cape, Big Top Cat, Miracle Man, Santana Strings, Ultimate, and Vicarage.

The Trial helps usher in a new era at Churchill, where in recent days workmen were putting final touches on the track's 3 1/2-year, $121 million renovation.

Churchill restricts access to some seating

About 60 horsemen met with Churchill officials Monday to discuss various issues pertaining to the spring meet and the new facility. One fairly contentious issue that arose concerned new seating restrictions. Even after the Derby, some premium seating - including select third-floor box areas to which everyday fans previously had access - will be off-limits to patrons other than season-package holders.

Churchill president Steve Sexton said Wednesday that the new guidelines are being instituted "to eliminate people trying to take advantage of the system at other people's expense, namely a season-package holder."

Churchill made provisions to allow owners and trainers to watch races from the premium areas, but some horsemen believe Churchill is being overly restrictive.

Opportunity knocks for Eurosilver

With the national handicap ranks fairly thin at the moment, trainer Carl Nafzger has skipped a pair of local stakes to point Eurosilver to the $500,000 Pimlico Special.

Eurosilver, winner of the Skip Away Handicap on the April 2 Florida Derby undercard, had been considered for the Ben Ali at Keeneland or the May 6 Alysheba at Churchill. Eurosilver joins Eddington, Offlee Wild, Badge of Silver, Pollard's Vision, and Second of June as prospects for the May 20 Pimlico Special.

Four of the top older handicap horses in training are not under consideration for that Grade 1 race: Ghostzapper, Roses in May, Rock Hard Ten, and Saint Liam.

* The $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, the Grade 1 race that precedes the Derby, is taking shape with a field of 11 older horses: America Alive, Del Mar Show, G P Fleet, Meteor Storm, Mustanfar, Perfect Drift, Place Cowboy, Scooter Roach, Senor Swinger, Swagger Stick, and Sweet Return.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch