04/29/2005 12:00AM

Macaw seizes Elkhorn opportunity

Bill Straus
Macaw wins the Grade 3 Elkhorn Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths at Keeneland on Friday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Macaw, a 6-year-old Irish-bred who loves soft going, drew into the Grade 3 at Keeneland on Friday morning, and that afternoon, he drew off.

Getting into the race only after the scratch of Magistretti, who likely would have been favored over firm ground, Macaw easily beat 11 other horses in the 1 1/2-mile Elkhorn, using a quick turn of foot with two furlongs to run to outkick and then distance himself from the field. Ridden by Javier Castellano in the $200,000 race, Macaw won by 2 1/2 lengths in a time of 2:32.62 over yielding turf at odds of 7-1.

"Fortunately, we were lucky to get in with the scratch," said Ruth Hargreaves, the assistant trainer to Angel Penna. "And we got lucky because we needed this race, since there are so few long-distance races in this country, and then we get soft ground, which he absolutely loves."

Macaw paid $17.40 to win. European finished second, completing a $247.80 exacta. The trifecta, with third-place finisher Rochester, paid $4,089. The 9-5 favorite, Epicentre, finished seventh, while the 5-2 second-choice, Navesink River, finished ninth. Both failed to fire at the top of the lane.

For Macaw, who is by Bluebird out of the Rainbow Quest mare No Quest, the win was his first since the 1 3/8-mile John Henry Stakes at The Meadowlands on Oct. 29 and the fifth in a 33-start career. The $124,000 first-place purse ran his lifetime earnings to $784,580.

Breaking from the outside post in the field of 12, Macaw was in last place through the first six furlongs, behind fractions of 26.21, 50.93, and 1:16.51. Macaw began to advance with a half-mile to run. At the head of the stretch, while parked behind a wall of horses, Castellano swung the horse wide of the rest of the field and he drew away.

"When I asked him to run, he finished very well," Castellano said. "He really seemed to like the soft turf."