03/16/2005 12:00AM

McGaughey's closers gladly bid Florida adieu

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Diamond Wildcat rumbles home in the six-furlong Horatius at Laurel.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - There is a theory that late-running horses who performed poorly at Gulfstream Park this winter will do better when they move to another surface. The theory is based in part on the fact that the kickback of dirt from the renovated main track was very hard, and that many horses would not run through it.

Trainer Shug McGaughey hopes there is credence to that theory. Through the first 2 1/2 months of the Gulfstream meet, McGaughey is 0 for 19. On Thursday, McGaughey was scheduled to send six horses to New York from Gulfstream, to run at Aqueduct in the coming weeks. One of them is Survivalist, who will run in Saturday's Gotham Stakes for 3-year-olds.

Many of the horses McGaughey trains come from off the pace. From what many riders told him, his horses at Gulfstream were having trouble handling the kickback hitting them in the face and body.

"The first part of the meet it was like rocks coming back there at them," McGaughey said Wednesday from south Florida. "That part of it got resolved after the first part of the meet; then what was coming back had a lot of clay in it and some horses wouldn't run into it. I think getting some of my horses off the track is going to help them. At least I hope it will."

Survivalist, a son of Danzig, won his maiden by eight lengths in a one-turn mile race at Belmont last October. Shortly thereafter, Survivalist popped a splint bone, which required time off.

Survivalist finished second twice at Gulfstream. On Feb. 5, he broke slowly, rushed up along the rail, and was bumped in deep stretch while running third. He was placed second when the stewards disqualified the winner, Qureall. On Feb. 26, Survivalist ran a distant second behind Sun King, a top contender for the Kentucky Derby.

"His first effort the ground gave way leaving there, he weaved his way up there, and I still thought he was going to have a big chance to win - but they came out and bumped him real hard, and he ended up finishing third," McGaughey said. "The next start he caught a buzz saw. He seems to be doing good; whether he's good enough, I don't know."

Led by New York-bred stakes winners Galloping Grocer and Naughty New Yorker, a field of 10 is expected for the Gotham, which will be run over the main track at one mile.

McGaughey will also send out Salute in Saturday's $100,000 Cicada Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs.

Salute has not run since finishing second behind Sis City in the Demoiselle. McGaughey elected to pass running in an allowance race at Gulfstream to try the Cicada.

"I thought her race was pretty good in the Demoiselle," McGaughey said. "It came up a paceless race. [Trainer D. Wayne] Lukas had something in there I was sort of hoping would go but didn't, and Jerry [Bailey] had to press her a little bit, which she doesn't like to do. I think she's done well down here."

McGaughey said Defer, the Laurel Futurity winner who ran poorly in the Hutcheson and Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, has been moved to Payson Park to train. McGaughey said Defer probably wouldn't run until the Belmont spring meet.

"He's in training; he's never missed a day," McGaughey said. "I'm just trying to get his head back on square and going in the right direction, and go from there."

Pavo works toward Gotham

To the surprise of many, track superintendent John Passero opened Aqueduct's main track for training on Wednesday. Not completely satisfied with the main track's condition, trainer Jennifer Pedersen received permission from the stewards to breeze two of her Gotham nominees on the inner track prior to Wednesday's first race.

One of them is Pavo, runner-up in a pair of stakes in his last two outs, who worked four furlongs in 49 seconds under jockey Alan Garcia. The other, Daddy Joe, worked five furlongs in 1:00 under Norberto Arroyo Jr.

Pavo is the more likely of the two to run, owner Ernie Paragallo said. Daddy Joe would likely be sent to Turfway Park to run in the Rushaway Stakes on March 26.

In Wednesday's work, Pavo was a bit rank going to the pole, but settled down when put into the work and was timed in fractions of 12 seconds, 25, and 37. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.

"I love the one-turn mile for Pavo," Pedersen said. "He broke his maiden going a one-turn mile. There's always a ton of speed and the closers can hang out."

Pavo was a hard-charging second behind Distinctive Trick in the Fred "Cappy" Capossela Stakes before running second in the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway.

Diamond Wildcat points to Bay Shore

Trainer Ben Perkins Jr. thought Diamond Wildcat, unlike other progeny of Forest Wildcat he has trained, could stretch out in distance. But after a ninth-place finish in the Whirlaway Stakes around two turns, and an eight-length win in the six-furlong Horatius Stakes at Laurel on March 5, it looks like he was wrong.

"I guess he wants to go short," Perkins said.

So, Perkins will keep him short and point Diamond Wildcat to the Grade 3, $150,000 Bay Shore Stakes here on April 9. The Bay Shore is run at seven furlongs.

Diamond Wildcat gave Perkins hope that he could be successful stretching out when he won a one-mile entry-level allowance race over the inner track. But he faded to ninth after dueling for the lead in the Whirlaway, at 1 1/16 miles. He bounced back with a strong front-running victory in the Horatius, earning a career-best Beyer Figure of 93.

"When he made the lead turning for home, coming off the two distance races, you knew he'd have some finish left," Perkins said.

* In observance of Palm Sunday and Easter, Aqueduct will be dark the next two Sundays. Horsemen should be aware that entries for the Thursday cards of March 24 and March 31 will be taken on the corresponding Tuesdays, March 22 and 24.