06/08/2004 12:00AM

Mayo on the Side still on fence


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Carl Nafzger, who lost Lead Story to a career-ending ankle injury Saturday, said Tuesday that he remains undecided on whether to run Mayo on the Side in Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap.

The Fleur de Lis is one of six stakes to be run here Saturday, including the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap.

Mayo on the Side, favorably weighted at 116 pounds after upsetting Azeri in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on May 1, would likely start as one of the favorites in the 1 1/8-mile Fleur De Lis. Even if Nafzger opts to pass the race, a good field including runners from across the country is anticipated when entries are drawn Wednesday.

Adoration, winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff last October, is the headliner and starting highweight at 122 pounds. She is expected to be joined by Bare Necessities, Cat Fighter, Roar Emotion, Yell, Angela's Love, Indy Groove, and La Reason. Miss Fortunate and Cloakof Vagueness, along with Mayo on the Side, are considered possible starters by Donnie Richardson, Churchill Downs senior vice president of racing.

Most of the fillies and mares being pointed for the Fleur de Lis completed their final works over the weekend. Two contenders worked Monday: Roar Emotion breezed a half-mile in 47 seconds at Belmont, and Bare Necessities breezed six furlongs in 1:12.60 at Arlington.

Hard Buck ready to run now

Saturday's inaugural running of the $100,000 Opening Verse has the smallest purse of the six stakes Saturday at Churchill Downs - a fact not reflected in the quality of the probable entrants. On Tuesday, Grade 1 winner Hard Buck joined a list of likely starters that includes Mystery Giver, Royal Spy, and Senor Swinger.

Hard Buck, unraced since finishing second in the $2 million Dubai Sheema Classic on March 27, had been pointed toward the July 4 Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington. But after three works by Hard Buck over the Churchill Downs course, trainer Ken McPeek changed plans, opting to bring Hard Buck back in the Opening Verse, a 1 1/16-mile grass event.

On Tuesday, Hard Buck worked a sharp half-mile around on the dogs in 48.60 on a firm Churchill Downs turf course. He worked in company with Prince Arch, who is being pointed toward the Jefferson Cup. The pair recorded the quickest works at that distance.

"He's 'right' right now, and it ought to be a pretty good spot for him," McPeek said. "I think he could win this race and maybe even run in the Stars and Stripes, too."

Also working Tuesday was Everything to Gain, who breezed a half-mile in 50.60. He won an allowance prep May 23, overcoming a troubled trip to beat Devil Time by a neck. Everything to Gain is seeking his first stakes victory.

Other likely starters include Restage, Classic Par, Gretchen's Star, and Contractor. Honor in War, winner of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve in 2003, will not run.

Kitten's Joy to defend perfect record

As any racing fan who hasn't been living under a rock knows, Smarty Jones fell from the unbeaten ranks of 3-year-olds last weekend with his dramatic upset loss in the Belmont Stakes.

Trainer Dale Romans is certainly hoping the same sort of fate does not await his star 3-year-old, Kitten's Joy, who has won all five of his races on grass. Kitten's Joy will make his sixth career turf start Saturday in the $200,000 Jefferson Cup.

After looking over the prospective field for the Jefferson Cup, Romans expressed his respect for the horses who will try to deal Kitten's Joy his first turf defeat.

"This race should be tough, being a Grade 3 for $200,000," said Romans. "You're bound to have some nice horses in there against you."

Yet there is little question that Kitten's Joy, with Jerry Bailey set to ride for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, will be the colt to beat in the 1 1/8-mile Jefferson Cup. Kitten's Joy, by El Prado, enters off three straight Grade 3 wins, the latest coming as a heavy favorite in the Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill.

Romans said he is hoping the Jefferson Cup will be a springboard to the July 10 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs and Aug. 14 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington.

At least nine or 10 are expected to oppose Kitten's Joy on Saturday, most notably Terroplane for Neil Drysdale and Prince Arch.

Tina Bull a success for Cecil

Dean Cecil is not your typical stuffed-shirt horse owner. A self-described country boy who lives nearly an hour south of Louisville in the rural town of New Haven, Ky., Cecil regularly attends the races with groups of friends who come very casually dressed and enjoy getting a little on the wild side.

Cecil, 40, got in on the ground floor of an Internet web hosting company that ultimately proved a financial success, allowing him to dabble in buying, breeding, and racing horses. Cecil has parlayed one of those acquisitions into a potential windfall: Tina Bull, a speedy 4-year-old filly who will make just her second grass start as one of nine entered in the Thursday feature at Churchill, a $69,300 allowance at five furlongs on turf.

Cecil is being wooed by major Kentucky breeders for Tina Bull, and not just because Tina Bull has earned over $220,000 after being purchased for a mere $17,000 as a yearling. Tina Bull also has residual value. Her dam, Izana, is out of Tersa, who also produced current 3-year-old standout Rock Hard Ten.

Cecil was on hand Tuesday morning at Churchill to watch Steve Asmussen put Tina Bull through a three-furlong breeze in 37.20 seconds on a firm turf course. To prevail Thursday, Tina Bull will have to defeat an outstanding group that includes Nicole's Dream, Anna Em, and Put Me In.

* Trainer Bob Baffert, who has won three of the previous six runnings of the Northern Dancer Handicap, rates another good chance Saturday with Courageous Act, winner of the May 22 prep for the 1 1/16-mile race. A large field of 3-year-olds is likely for the $200,000 Northern Dancer, which carries a Grade 3 ranking for the first time this year.

* Western Ransom, shipping in from northern Maryland for trainer Michael Dickinson, will be one of the main contenders in what is expected to be a big field of 3-year-old fillies in the $200,000 Regret Stakes on the Saturday undercard.

* The third annual Out to Pasture Party, a fundraiser for the Thorough-bred Retirement Foundation, will be held after the Foster card in the Triple Crown Room. Silent and live auctions will be held, with activities beginning at 7 p.m. For more information, call (502) 636-4519.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee