09/27/2001 11:00PM

Macho Uno still catching up


After Macho Uno held off Point Given to capture the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall, more than a few horseplayers were convinced he would win the Kentucky Derby this year.

Unfortunately for owner Frank Stronach and trainer Joe Orseno, a chance at the Derby never materialized. Macho Uno, who was voted a divisional Eclipse Award off his Breeders' Cup score, was out of action for nearly eight months until returning in July at Saratoga, where he began a late-season campaign that could ultimately result in two derby wins.

Earlier this month, in the second start of his comeback, Macho Uno won the Pennsylvania Derby. And on Saturday, the colt will be heavily favored in the 67th running of the $300,000 Ohio Derby, highlight of the annual racing season at Thistledown in North Randall, Ohio.

Macho Uno missed the entire Triple Crown primarily because Orseno was dissatisfied with how the colt had failed to physically mature. Orseno said the colt simply "hadn't grown into himself" as other top 3-year-olds battled fiercely through an arduous season, many of them falling by the wayside in the process.

Now all that stands between Macho Uno and a berth in the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Classic is the 1 1/8 miles of the Grade 2 Ohio Derby, a race the colt nearly missed because of a bout with colic last weekend. But because Macho Uno did not miss any training time, Orseno decided Wednesday that Macho Uno was sufficiently healthy, and after an overnight van ride from New York, the colt arrived Thursday in Cleveland to fulfill his role as the odds-on choice in the Thistledown race.

Seven other 3-year-olds are entered against Macho Uno in the Ohio Derby, although it seems unlikely that all will start. Mike Maker, assistant to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, submitted a scratch card for Unbridled Time before withdrawing it Thursday, saying there was still a possibility Unbridled Time would run. And Niall O'Callaghan, trainer of Woodmoon, said he entered primarily on the possibility that Macho Uno might not make it.

Handicapping-wise, the Ohio Derby appears to boil down to whether Macho Uno will be able to run down the dominant speed horse in the field, Western Pride. The other starters are Saint Damien, On the Game, Saratoga Games, and Weston Field.