12/19/2003 1:00AM

Man From Wicklow doubtful for McKnight


MIAMI - Man From Wicklow is the 121-pound co-highweight along with Balto Star for the $150,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap, but chances are the reigning champ will not be back to defend his title in the Grade 2 race, one of four stakes on next Saturday's Grand Slam II program.

"He's 50-50 at best to run," owner-trainer Rick Violette Jr. said by phone from New York on Wednesday - and he went on to admit that the chances are probably even lower than that. Man From Wicklow would be coming back from an eight-month vacation in the 1 1/2-mile McKnight.

"A mile and one-half might just be too far to bring him back off the layoff," Violette said. "He's likely to go out there and run his eyeballs out the first time, and it could set me back another three months."

Man From Wicklow rallied from near the back of the pack to win the 2002 McKnight by a length over Serial Bride. He came back seven weeks later to earn the first Grade 1 win of his career when he dominated the Gulfstream Park Handicap. But after finishing second in Keeneland's Grade 3 Elkhorn on April 23, Man From Wicklow went to the sidelines for a long rest.

"He strained the XYZ ligaments in his pastern," Violette said. "You have to be careful with that type of injury. Some horses don't ever come back from it. I put the brakes on him immediately. I left him in the stall for two months just to make sure he healed properly."

Man From Wicklow shipped to Palm Meadows earlier this month and has already worked once over the track there.

"I'm up against it to make the McKnight, and I'm not going to force-feed him to do it," said Violette. "He's eligible for the Sunshine Millions Turf a month later, and that race will probably come up easier. It's also at a mile and one-eighth, which might be an easier distance for him the first time back."

Fountain of Youth next for Read the Footnotes

Violette is also in no hurry to get his top juvenile prospect, Read the Footnotes, back to action. Read the Footnotes won four of his five starts this year, including the Grade 2 Remsen and Grade 3 Nashua, and is among the bevy of candidates in a wide-open race for the Eclipse Award in the 2-year-old division.

"It's probably a longshot, but this is great for the owner and we've been having a lot of fun just thinking about the Eclipse," said Violette, who trains Read the Footnotes for Seth Klarman's Klaravich Stables. "It's been kind of a weird year, and somebody might back into it. Our horse won two graded stakes, ran the fastest of any of the 2-year-olds, and probably could be undefeated if he didn't displace in the Champagne." Read the Footnotes's 105 Beyer Speed Figure in the Remsen was the highest of the year among 2-year-old males.

Violette said he is looking at the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 14 for Read the Footnotes's 3-year-old debut.

"I won't do anything serious with him until after the first of the year," said Violette.

Certifiably Crazy may not get in Axthelm

Trainer Harry Benson was bemoaning his luck after Certifiably Crazy wound up on the also-eligible list for Saturday's $100,000 Pete Axthelm Stakes.

Benson recently purchased Certifiably Crazy, a New York-bred, for owners Ken Avanzino and the Double S Stable and was looking forward to running him in the Axthelm. Certifiably Crazy might have been the favorite in the race, since he finished second behind the odds-on Stroll in the Grade 3 Calder Derby here on Oct. 11.

"He's doing great, and I really thought he'd have been tough in this race," Benson said. "Instead I'll have to ship him to the Fair Grounds to run in the Woodchopper on the 27th."

Benson also said he is pointing Barbara O'Brien, impressive winner of the Grade 3 Chaposa Springs Handicap here last weekend, for the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita on Jan. 25.

"I think I want to keep her sprinting for now, and that looks like the perfect spot for her," Benson said.

* Trainer Benny Stutts scratched Predawn Raid from Friday's 10th event, a third-level optional claimer and allowance, and will instead point him for the Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper Handicap on Dec. 27. Predawn Raid is weighted at 110 for the Hooper and will receive a 12-pound concession from highweight Best of the Rest.

* Stormy Frolic worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:15.40 here Friday. Stormy Frolic will attempt to defend her title in the $100,000 Stage Door Betty Handicap on the Grand Slam II card.