03/09/2009 12:00AM

Gone Astray finds spot for 2009 debut


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Shug McGaughey said he's really been looking forward to running Gone Astray for the first time since his eventful fourth-place finish in the 2008 Champagne. The problem has been finding a race.

McGaughey finally got a race for Gone Astray on Wednesday at Gulfstream Park. It's a one-mile entry-level allowance test. Five other 3-year-olds were entered, including impressive maiden winners B Z Warrior and Just a Coincidence.

Gone Astray made four starts at 2, culminating with his fourth-place finish behind Vineyard Haven in the one-mile Champagne. Gone Astray defeated Nowhere to Hide, who is currently on the Kentucky Derby trail, by 2 1/2 lengths when winning his maiden last summer at Saratoga.

"He's been training very well down here this winter and has been ready to run for a couple of weeks," McGaughey said. "I've just been waiting for a race. In the Champagne, Ramon [Dominguez] said he steadied Gone Astray when he thought he was breaking down at the half-mile pole. The horse lost all position at that point, and when he finally got to running he was in trouble all the way."

McGaughey said he was hoping to use Gone Astray's 3-year-old debut as a prep for the seven-furlong Swale on March 28, but those plans might have to be altered due to the late start.

"It's taken about 10 days longer than I'd wanted to get him a race, and we might be a little too crowded now to make the Swale," McGaughey said. "I'm looking for a good, solid effort out of him on Wednesday. It doesn't look like we can make the Derby, but he may eventually turn out to be that kind."

Just a Coincidence needed six starts to finally win his maiden, but he did so with a flourish, drawing off to a 5 1/4-length victory going a mile on Feb. 21. The son of Forestry is trained by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Nick Zito.

B Z Warrior was a game winner of his debut, withstanding a three-horse, stretch-long battle before emerging a head better than Custom for Carlos. Custom for Carlos returned to win his maiden as an odds-on favorite here Saturday.

Both Just a Coincidence and B Z Warrior earned Beyer Speed Figures of 88 for their maiden tallies.