09/03/2003 12:00AM

McLaughlin: It's time for a change


ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is leaving his position as private trainer for the Maktoum family to open a public stable. McLaughlin has worked for the Maktoum family since the fall of 1993.

McLaughlin has trained primarily for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum's Shadwell Stable. While spending five months of each year in Dubai, however, he has broken and trained horses for the other brothers in the family, including Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum's Gainsborough Farm and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's Darley Stud.

McLaughlin, 42, said the reason for the change is to be closer to his family, who beginning in 2002 stayed in New York on a year-round basis.

"The main reason I'm staying in America is my children and my wife,'' said McLaughlin, who with his wife, Letty, has a daughter, Erin, 12, and a son, Ryan, 9. "They came with me to Dubai for eight years. Last year my daughter started middle school and we just thought it was too hard taking her in and out of school. . . . My first job in life is a parent and I want to be with my family.''

McLaughlin, a former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, chose this time to announce his decision hoping to capitalize on the successful season he has had. McLaughlin's 47 winners from 276 starters in 2003 has already surpassed his total of 43 winners from 260 starters a year ago. McLaughlin has won two graded stakes with Trademark, who could make it to the Breeders' Cup Mile, and won the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes with Sharp Impact.

"We had a great spring and hopefully we'll continue on and have a good year,'' said McLaughlin, who won 20 races from 47 starters at the Belmont spring meet. "This is a good time to stick your plaque up and hopefully get some phone calls."

McLaughlin said he has 15 horses for Shadwell, and about six or seven each for Gainsborough and Darley. McLaughlin currently owns six or seven horses in partnership with Alvin Haynes. McLaughlin has already picked up some horses for owner Joe Allen.

McLaughlin said he hopes to keep many of the horses he already has in training for the Maktoum family, but decisions on those horses will be made at a later date.

Saturday, McLaughlin can further strengthen his case for Northern Rock and Lunar Sovereign to stay when he runs those two Darley-owned in horses in Grade 1 races at Belmont. Northern Rock will take on Mineshaft in the $500,000 Woodward while Lunar Sovereign faces Whitmore's Conn and Denon in the $500,000 Man o'War.

Northern Rock is 2 for 4 under McLaughlin's care, winning allowance races on dirt and turf while running sixth in the Tom Fool and fifth, beaten only three lengths, in the Grade 1 Whitney.

Northern Rock won a 1 1/16-mile dirt allowance race at Belmont in June, beating Puzzlement by six lengths. Puzzlement, Hold That Tiger, and Thompson Rouge are the other expected starters in the nine-furlong Woodward.

"We're not in there without a chance, but Mineshaft would be very hard for anybody to beat,'' McLaughlin said.

Lunar Sovereign is 3 for 3 at Belmont and ran a strong third in the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park. He threw in a clunker when finishing eighth in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga last time out. Lunar Sovereign tracked a moderate pace in the Sword Dancer, but McLaughlin said the fractions might have been misleading given the soft ground.

"All the ones that were up there backed up, maybe it was faster than it appeared on the clock for the ground,'' McLaughlin said. "We're better with a solid pace and try to make a run."

Mineshaft breezes in slop

Mineshaft, the Woodward favorite, breezed an easy half-mile in 52 seconds Wednesday morning at Belmont. The track was sloppy and a double set of dogs, orange cones designed to protect the inside of the track, were up, forcing workouts to the middle of the track.

"We didn't have a lot to do, I just wanted him to stretch his legs a little bit,'' trainer Neil Howard said. "He got over it good. I'm thinking this is comparable - with the dogs up as far as out as they were - to a 49 on a fast track.''

Mineshaft will be making his first start since winning the Grade 1 Suburban Handicap on this track on July 5. Mineshaft is 5 for 7 this year and has finished second in his other two starts.

The Woodward field, with jockeys, is expected to be: Hold That Tiger (Edgar Prado), Mineshaft (Robby Albarado), Northern Rock (Richard Migliore), Puzzlement (Jorge Chavez), and Thompson Rouge (Jerry Bailey).

Tagg stable looking for big weekend

While trainer Barclay Tagg waits patiently for his Kentucky Derby winner, Funny Cide, to get healthy enough to return to training, life is anything but slow for the trainer and his assistant, Robin Smullen.

While Tagg was out of town checking on his mid-Atlantic string Wednesday, Smullen was at Belmont getting Island Fashion and Macaw ready for Grade 1 stakes on Saturday.

Island Fashion, the Alabama winner, will try to continue a late-season push for divisional honors when she takes on fellow Grade 1 winners Lady Tak and Spoken Fur in the $250,000 Gazelle Handicap. Macaw, runner-up in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer, will try to turn the tables on Whitmore's Conn in the Man o'War.

Island Fashion, who won the Delaware Oaks while in the care of Nick Canani, was a surprisingly easy six-length winner of the Alabama, in which she beat Grade 1 winners Awesome Humor, Spoken Fur, and Bird Town. That was her first start for Tagg, who took over Island Fashion's training when Canani went to work for owner Mike Gill.

"It didn't catch Barclay by surprise,'' Smullen said. "Barclay was very impressed with her Delaware race. He called right after that race and said 'You're not going to believe how nice this filly is.' "

Smullen said the most impressive thing about Island Fashion is her versatility.

"She can sit off the pace or she can go to the front if there is no pace. She's so willing to do anything you want,'' Smullen said.

Island Fashion is the 122-pound highweight in the Gazelle. She will concede one pound to both Lady Tak and Spoken Fur. Buy the Sport (113) and Holiday Lady (113) are the others considered definite. Alchemist (114), and Danuta (114) are considered possible.

Macaw has not won a race in a year, and is 0 for 9 since coming to Tagg's barn last year. However, he has improved in each of his last three starts - all graded stakes - which have come with the addition of blinkers. He was fourth in the Grade 1 Manhattan, third in the Grade 2 Bowling Green, and second in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer.

Smullen said the rains at Belmont this week should only help Macaw.

"I'm really glad it's raining because he likes soft turf much better than a hard turf,'' she said.

Funny Cide walks on track

Meanwhile, Smullen took Funny Cide to Belmont's main track where he simply walked once around. Funny Cide has not trained since Aug. 22, the day before the Travers when he was found to have mucus in his trachea.

Smullen was aboard Funny Cide Tuesday morning when he walked 30 minutes around the shed row. Wednesday, she decided to take him outside for a 45-minute walk. Wednesday, Funny Cide was accompanied to the track by a pony, ridden by trainer Dallas Keen, who is in New York to saddle Petionville Indeed in Sunday's Grade 1 Garden City Breeders' Cup.

"He was getting upset,'' Smullen said. "Dallas was kind enough to put a pony strap on him and we took him outside. We took another blood on him and if it comes back good we'll start training him.''

No plans for Funny Cide's next start will be made before he resumes training.