05/22/2001 11:00PM

Leg injury sidelines Mr. John

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Mr. John, the last-place finisher in the Preakness Stakes last weekend, has been taken out of training because of a slight ligament injury, trainer Elliott Walden said Wednesday.

"He got hurt in a spot somewhere between the hock and stifle," said Walden. "It's nothing serious, but we're going to go ahead and give him some time off."

Mr. John, who finished second but was disqualified in the April 21 Lexington Stakes, was sent off at 20-1 in the Preakness, second-lowest (behind 17-1 Richly Blended) among the six runners who did not race in the Kentucky Derby. The colt was well placed in the early stages before fading to 11th and last.

Also, Walden said Ecton Park, the 5-year-old horse who finished last in the Hawthorne Gold Cup last weekend, would be given "a serious going-over. We're trying to figure out why he ran so poorly and whether or not to keep going with him."

Duckhorn is Foster-bound

Duckhorn, winner of the Hawthorne Gold Cup, is likely to make his next start in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Handicap on June 16, said trainer Pat Byrne.

The $750,000 Foster has evolved into the highlight post-Derby race of the Churchill spring meet. Captain Steve, who worked six furlongs here Monday and is scheduled to have another work this weekend with trainer Bob Baffert on hand, figures as a strong favorite in the 1 1/8-mile race.

Baffert and Day team up

Baffert and Pat Day, who seldom team together, will unite Saturday with Love at Noon in the Dogwood Stakes.

Love at Noon set the Churchill record for 6 1/2 furlongs on Kentucky Derby Day when finishing in 1:14.34. She is one of at least six 3-year-old fillies likely to run in the 1 1/16-mile Dogwood; the others are Golly Greeley, Happily Unbridled, Minister's Baby, Mysia Jo, and Nasty Storm.

Caressing, nominated to the Dogwood, will skip the race in favor of the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes at Belmont on June 8, trainer David Vance said.

Meche may or may not stay

Lonnie Meche, who won the Fair Grounds riding title easily, and was tied for fifth in the Churchill standings through last weekend, is deciding whether to leave early for Arlington Park, which opens its long summer-fall meet June 13. Churchill runs through July 8.

"You really don't want to come late to a meet like Arlington," said his agent, Louis Coco. "On the other hand, if we want to ride at Keeneland in October, it'd probably be good to stick around here to the end. We're still talking it over."

Trainer Niall O'Callaghan said Tijiyr, winner of the Explosive Bid at Fair Grounds in March, will make his next start in the June 9 Manhattan at Belmont or the June 10 Whittingham Memorial at Hollywood. Both are Grade 1 races.

O'Callaghan added that Keats, 16th in the Kentucky Derby off his upset in the Lexington, still has not returned to training because of a hoof injury. "It's a day-to-day thing where hopefully we'll have him back really soon," he said.

O'Callaghan said Horrible Evening, a recent allowance winner, could represent the stable in the $100,000 Northern Dancer on the Foster undercard. Keats had been his original hope.

* Sweet Nanette, who won her first four starts before being beaten in the Beaumont and La Troienne Stakes, has been sidelined after having undergone arthroscopic surgery on a hind ankle, said trainer Dallas Stewart. "We'll probably have her back in 60 to 90 days," said Stewart.

* A short field is shaping up for the $150,000 Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes on Monday. Among the 2-year-olds likely to run are Handsome Hunk, lakeside Cup, Leelanau, Open Story, Pharaoh's Cat, and Storm Witch.

* Because racing will be conducted Monday, Churchill will be dark Wednesday.