09/25/2001 11:00PM

Macho Uno to run in Ohio Derby after all

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Trainer Joe Orseno decided Wednesday morning to ship Macho Uno to Cleveland after all, meaning Saturday's $300,000 Ohio Derby will indeed have the marquee name Thistledown officials had sought.

Macho Uno, the 2-year-old champion of last year, had suffered from a bout of colic Saturday night, which had put his status for the Grade 2 Ohio Derby in question. But Orseno said Wednesday at Belmont Park that he was satisfied that nothing was amiss.

"He's fine, he looks great, he trained super today," said Orseno, who trains Macho Uno for Stronach Stables. "We decided to stay with our plan instead of changing it. My first instinct seems to be my best."

Macho Uno will be the "house horse" Saturday because his owner, Frank Stronach, also is the owner of Thistledown through his Magna Entertainment Corp.

As an Eclipse winner and as the impressive winner of the Pennsylvania Derby in his most recent start, Macho Uno figures to be a heavy favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Ohio Derby, for which entries were drawn Wednesday at Thistledown, located in the eastern Cleveland suburb of North Randall.

Under allowance conditions, Macho Uno will carry co-highweight of 119 pounds, including Gary Stevens.

Seven other 3-year-olds were entered, led by Western Pride and Saratoga Games, the one-two finishers in the West Virginia Derby last month.

From the rail, this is the lineup: Western Pride, Dana Whitney to ride; Saint Damien, Tony D'Amico; On the Game, Emile Ramsammy; Macho Uno, Gary Stevens; Saratoga Games, Mario Pino; Unbridled Time, Greta Kuntzweiler; Woodmoon, Larry Melancon; and Weston Field, Lonnie Meche.

Macho Uno is attempting to make a late-season impact on the 3-year-old division after having missed nearly nine months of action after his victory in the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He finished second by a nose in his July 28 comeback, a seven-furlong allowance at Saratoga. In his only subsequent start, he drew off to win the Sept. 3 Pennsylvania Derby as the odds-on favorite.

Macho Uno was scheduled to van overnight from Belmont and arrive at Thistledown at about 9 a.m. Eastern Thursday. Orseno initially wanted to have Macho Uno flown, but after being informed that airplanes are flying at lower altitudes than usual because of the recent terrorist attacks, he decided to have the horse shipped by van.

The Ohio Derby will feature quite a cross-section of North American racing. Three starters - Unbridled Time, Woodmoon, and Weston Field - will ship from Churchill Downs, while the other five are based elsewhere: Belmont, Laurel, Woodbine, Arlington, and Thistledown.

Ohio Derby's new spot on calander

For many years, the Ohio Derby was run in mid-summer, most recently in late July. But for this 67th running, Thistledown officials tried to shake things up by spotting the race on Sept. 29 to avoid the post-Triple Crown doldrums and conflicts with races such as the Haskell Invitational.

"It was hard to stay as far away as you could from the Triple Crown," said director of racing Bill Couch. "A lot of those horses really get worn out going through that. We wanted to try out being a Midwest prep for the Breeders' Cup."

Despite the scheduling change, the Ohio Derby is still in close proximity to two other late-season races restricted to 3-year-olds. It was preceded by one week by the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs and will be followed by one week by the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park.

Couch said he and other Thistledown officials are "about 50-50" on trying to decide whether to revert to a more traditional date in June or July.

*The Ohio Derby is the 11th of 12 Saturday races and is the third leg of a pick four wager. The Adena Springs Matchmaker Sprint starts the pick four as the ninth race. Seven fillies and mare, led by the uncoupled Bernie Flint duo of Spanish Glitter and Rose Frances, were entered.

- additional reporting by David Grening