07/11/2001 11:00PM

Include out of training with injury

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Include, one of the nation's top handicap horses, aggravated a splint injury in his last start and will be out of serious training for about six weeks, his trainer Bud Delp said Thursday. The injury won't preclude Delp and owner Robert Meyerhoff from aiming Include for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont. Include probably will have one prep race before the Classic.

Delp said Include came out of his third-place finish in the July 1 Suburban Handicap at Belmont with tenderness in his right foreleg. According to Delp, Include has had a "thumbnail-sized splint on the inside of his leg" since Delp began training him as a 3-year-old.

What trainers refer to as a splint is an inflammation or fracture of one of two small bones on either side of the cannon bone in a horse's lower leg. The injury can cause discomfort and lameness and can sometimes affect the suspensory ligament, which is adjacent to the splint bone.

Delp said Include's splint hadn't caused him problems before it was aggravated during the Suburban. "We didn't detect it until three days after the race, when the vet and I went over him very thoroughly," Delp said. "It's not that serious. He could probably run next week and win."

Delp said a blister, a substance that promotes healing in the bone, would be applied to Include's injured leg. The colt will walk the shed row for as much as two hours a day during his recovery period. Delp said Include would be able to resume training "in six weeks, maybe less than that. The break's certainly not going to hurt him right now."

The injury knocks Include out of his next start, which would have come in either the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga or the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth. Include might make his comeback Sept. 22 in the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park. "It's a good spot because it's nine furlongs," Delp said. "I don't know if I'm good enough to get him ready for a mile and a quarter in the Jockey Club Gold Cup" after a layoff.

Include's loss in the Suburban, where he was defeated by Albert the Great and Lido Palace, was his first in six starts this year. A 4-year-old homebred by Broad Brush, Include won the New Orleans Handicap in March, the Grade 1 Pimlico Special in May and the Massachusetts Handicap in June, and has earned nearly $1.3 million this season. He currently is tied for the lead with Albert the Great in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Champions on CBS series of handicap races. The winner of the series, which ends with the Whitney, earns a $270,000 bonus.