03/05/2004 12:00AM

Master David out of Florida Derby

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Master David, who would have been one of the choices for next Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, will not be coming for the race due to illness, trainer Bobby Frankel confirmed Friday.

"He had a temperature of 102 [Thursday]," Frankel said. "He has a high normal white blood count. I think we'll be all right in a few days.''

Frankel said he hoped to get Master David back to the track over the weekend or by Monday, and would wait to train the horse before deciding where to ship him. Frankel mentioned the Gotham at Aqueduct as a possibility, though that would be turning back to a one-turn mile. Frankel has said he wants to run Master David in the Wood Memorial on April 10 as his last Derby prep.

"Maybe he'll go back to the track in a couple of days, Monday at the latest," Frankel said. "He's been eating and everything, he's just got a 102. I thought I had a hell of a shot, but you know everything happens for a reason."

Master David, a son of Grand Slam, was coming off a one-length victory in the Sham Stakes at 1 1/8 miles. He beat the defending 2-year-old champion, Action This Day, as well as the highly regarded Borrego.

Master David, owned by the Georgica Stable of Peter Minikes, finished second behind Read the Footnotes in last November's Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. Master David finished third in his 3-year-old debut, the Grade 2 Santa Catalina Stakes.

The loss of Master David reduces the number of definite Florida Derby starters to six: Read the Footnotes, Value Plus, Tapit, Sir Oscar, The Cliff's Edge, and Friends Lake.

Read the Footnotes revving up again

Immediately following the Fountain of Youth, trainer Rick Violette began to worry if perhaps Read the Footnotes did too much too soon in winning a stirring stretch drive against Second of June.

In the three weeks since the race, Violette's fears have been allayed by how well his Kentucky Derby prospect appears to be doing.

Read the Footnotes gave Violette even more reason to breathe easy on Friday as the colt put in a solid six-furlong workout in 1:12.40 at the Palm Meadows training center in preparation for the Florida Derby. Of the five works at the distance, it was the fastest by almost two seconds.

Exercise rider Morna McDowall was aboard for the move, which was done late in the morning over a dry track and into a stiff headwind in the stretch. Palm Meadows clockers caught Read the Footnotes in fractions of 12.40 seconds, 23.80, 35.40, 47.60, and 1:00.40. He galloped out seven furlongs in 1:24.60 and the mile in 1:39.40.

"It was just a tremendous work," McDowall said afterward. "I don't think it was too much for him, either. He galloped out well and we just shut him down."

Violette worked Read the Footnotes eight days out from the Florida Derby to give him some leeway. Had Read the Footnotes worked too fast, he had an extra day to recover. If he went too slowly, Violette could work him an easy three furlongs or half-mile two or three days out from the race.

As it was, Violette was content with the work and said Read the Footnotes would simply gallop into the Florida Derby after getting the weekend off.

"It was three weeks of letting him recharge, and then today he had to get back to serious work," Violette said. "I let him get away with a little half-mile in 50 [seconds] last week. It's a little bit eerie; we're another week closer and I don't know that I'd change anything."

Violette said he gave Read the Footnotes a fairly easy training regimen following the Fountain of Youth, in which he defeated Second of June by a neck and earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 113.

"You know that race had to take something out of him, which is why I forced myself to give him a pretty manageable three weeks," Violette said. "Watching him train, watching him eat, you wouldn't necessarily have had to do that."

Purge headed to Oaklawn for Rebel Stakes

Purge, who returned from a six-month layoff to win an entry-level allowance race here on Feb. 22, will make his first start around two turns in the $200,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 20.

The Rebel is run at 1 1/16 miles and figures to feature the undefeated Smarty Jones. Purge, a son of Pulpit, has won both of his career starts at six furlongs. He needed surgery to remove an ankle chip after his maiden win last August at Saratoga. In his allowance win here in February, Purge ran six furlongs in 1:09.54 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99.

"It's time to find out," trainer Todd Pletcher said regarding two turns. "He's a nice horse; we'll see if a mile and a sixteenth is okay. It was a pretty big effort last time. Numbers-wise, it came up pretty strong."

Puzzlement 'not out of the woods'

Trainer Allen Jerkens remains concerned about the fate of multiple-graded-stakes winner Puzzlement, who was sent to an equine clinic in Palm Beach on Feb. 27 after developing an infection in his tendon.

"He's not out of the woods yet. It's pretty serious," Jerkens said Friday morning. "They still haven't got the infection completely under control as yet."

Puzzlement, winner of last summer's Grade 2 Saratoga Breeders' Cup, began his 2004 campaign with a victory over stablemate Bowman's Band in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap. In his most recent start, Puzzlement finished fourth in the Grade 1 Donn.

"His leg was filled, but I still don't know how this happened, because there's no mark at all," said Jerkens. "There's nothing you can actually visualize."

When asked if the injury could be career-threatening, Jerkens said any future race plans were secondary at this point.

"I just hope they can save his life first," he said. "We'll worry about racing later."

Lilah keeps getting better with age

On a happier note, Jerkens was delighted about the recent success of his trainee Lilah, who posted her second consecutive one-sided victory on Thursday. Both wins came against optional claiming and allowance company. A 7-year-old mare, Lilah was entered under a $100,000 claiming tag in both races, but there were no takers.

"It's pretty amazing, because you don't usually see horses start running that well when they're 7," Jerkens said.

Shannon Uske accepted her first career mount aboard Lilah at Calder during the winter of 2002. She won, and has been the mare's regular jockey ever since.

Pesci and Bear Fan get back to work

Pesci, the 4-year-old filly named after her part-owner, actor Joe Pesci, breezed four furlongs in 52 seconds Friday morning at Palm Meadows. It was her first breeze since she finished ninth in the Sunshine Millions Distaff, where she suffered an eye injury.

Trainer Wesley Ward, who was in California, said he wants to get Pesci fit again before deciding where to point the Florida-bred filly, who has won two of three starts.

"It took a little while to get her [eye] cleared up," Ward said. "Now she's back on track. We're going to give her a couple of works to get her back, point for something, then fine-tune her training depending on where it will be."

Ward said Pesci's next race would most likely be at seven furlongs or a mile.

Meanwhile, Bear Fan, who won the Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park on Feb. 15, worked four furlongs in 48.40 seconds Friday. Ward said he is pointing Bear Fan to the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.

Another talented Ward runner, Doctor Jalili, worked four furlongs in 48.80 seconds. The New York-bred son of Two Punch will be pointed to open-company allowance races in New York, where Ward hopes to have a dozen stalls this spring.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch