03/20/2008 11:00PM

Matz plots different path for Visionaire


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Michael Matz has decided against following the same path that led Barbaro to his Kentucky Derby victory two years ago with his current Derby hopeful Visionaire.

Matz said Friday that Visionaire will not have his final Kentucky Derby prep in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 29, and that he's narrowed his choice to the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 5 or the Blue Grass at Keeneland one week later. Barbaro won the 2006 Florida Derby as a final stepping-stone to his memorable victory five weeks later at Churchill Downs.

Visionaire, who won an allowance race here to launch his 3-year-old campaign, is coming off a last-to-first victory in Aqueduct's Grade 3 Gotham on March 8.

"The Florida Derby just comes up a little too quickly," Matz said after Visionaire worked a half-mile in 50 seconds at Palm Meadows on Friday.

"I was very pleased with his work this morning. The track was a little loose, and he did it just the way I wanted. He started slow and finished nicely.

Visionaire will ship to Keeneland on March 30.

"Right now, the Blue Grass seems the most likely spot since it gives us another week and I can just walk him over and run him," Matz said.

Even with Visionaire out of the prospective lineup, the Florida Derby field figures to be full when the race is drawn Wednesday. At least a dozen 3-year-olds still remain probable for the Grade 1 race, with Big Brown, Elysium Fields, and Hey Byrn the likely favorites among a group that also includes Smooth Air, Tomcito, Face the Cat, Cool Gator, Why Tonto, B B Frank, Nistle's Crunch, Fierce Wind, and perhaps Majestic Warrior.

B B Frank will be among the longshots in the nine-furlong Florida Derby, but trainer Amy Tarrant is looking forward to taking on the big boys with her former claimer.

"We claimed him hoping to have a nice little allowance horse to take back to New Jersey," Tarrant said. "It turns out we may have something more, and we're looking forward to finding out."

B B Frank earned his spot in the Florida Derby by virtue of his 2 3/4-length first-level allowance win going a mile on Feb. 22.

Kohana successful on stretch out

Trainer Rick Violette may not have a Florida Derby or Kentucky Derby candidate on his hands, but he does have a very promising 3-year-old in the undefeated Kohana, who successfully stretched out to a mile to post an impressive allowance win Thursday. Kohana, a son of Indian Charlie, is owned by West Point Stables.

"He's a nice little pro," Violette said. "We're behind the 8-ball as far as the Derby is concerned, but he has talent and is very professional. I loved the way he was content to listen to the jock and not get locked into a hard speed duel today. Horses that tractable usually can compete at any level."

Kohana was ridden to victory Thursday by Kent Desormeaux.

"The good thing is now that I've gotten a mile race under him, I can do just about anything," Violette said. "We have a lot of options."

Chatain back to sidelines

Trainer Angel Penna Jr. said his oft-injured Chatain will be sidelined indefinitely once again after suffering an abscessed foot that forced him to be scratched from the Grade 2 Richter Scale Handicap earlier this month.

"He twisted his shoe galloping and that's what caused the problem," Penna explained. "We had to open him up, and while the abscess has healed he's still left with a hole there, and now we've got to let the foot grow, which means it's all up to Mother Nature at this point how much time he loses."

Chatain, now 5, has made just nine starts, the most recent coming here Jan. 6 when he successfully defended his title in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap.

Azpurua puts stable together

Leo Azpurua Jr., who has not trained regularly for the last five years, is back in business with five horses stabled locally, including stakes winners Sweetnorthernsaint and Weigelia.

"I'm hoping to run all of them here in April, except maybe Sweetnorthernsaint," Azpurua said while watching Weigelia pull up after working three furlongs in 34.80 seconds here Friday.

Azpurua, a mainstay on the south Florida circuit before entering the real estate business five years ago, said he has applied for stalls at the upcoming Calder meet.