04/12/2005 11:00PM

McLaughlin likes his chances

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Closing Argument, with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, will try to pull an upset in Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Closing Argument, according to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, has shown dramatic improvement since McLaughlin agonized over - then ultimately decided against - running the colt in the April 2 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

"When I was trying to decide about the Florida Derby, the colt was a little dull, his hair coat was a little off, and he was still a little sensitive in the foot where he'd had a bruise," said McLaughlin.

But since shipping north to Keeneland, Closing Argument has returned to full strength and is primed to upset a stellar field of 3-year-olds that will contest the 81st on Saturday, said McLaughlin.

"He really does look great, and I couldn't be happier with how this all turned out," he said McLaughlin. "It was just bad timing, having to miss the Florida Derby, but maybe it'll all work out for the best."

In lieu of the Blue Grass, McLaughlin considered the Arkansas Derby for Closing Argument, who won the Feb. 5 Holy Bull at Gulfstream last out, but said the smaller field at Keeneland was among the major factors in his final decision.

"If he'd drawn the 10-, 11-, or 12-post down there, it'd be very difficult to win from there," he said. "I know that the Blue Grass, on paper, is probably the toughest of all the Derby preps. But we're stabled right here, the colt is training very well, and we drew a good post [2], so we'll see how he matches up in this great field Saturday."

In the Holy Bull, Closing Argument dealt the eventual Florida Derby winner, High Fly, his lone defeat from six career starts.

Zito in line for two records

If trainer Nick Zito wins the Blue Grass with Sun King on Saturday, the record books will have to be rewritten in at least a couple of spots.

Zito is tied for most Blue Grass victories with three, having previously won with Strike the Gold in 1991, Halory Hunter in 1998, and The Cliff's Edge in 2004. The other trainers with three wins are Ben Jones, Woody Stephens, and Leroy Jolley, all Hall of Fame members.

Zito also could complete an unprecedented sweep with a victory Saturday: no trainer has ever won the Blue Grass, Wood Memorial, and Florida Derby in the same year with three different horses. Zito won the Florida Derby with High Fly and the Wood last Saturday with Bellamy Road.

The three-race sweep has been done twice before, by Lucien Laurin in 1972 (Upper Case won the Florida Derby and Wood, and Riva Ridge won the Blue Grass), and by Bobby Frankel in 2003 (Empire Maker won the Florida Derby and Wood, and Peace Rules won the Blue Grass)

Longer odds for Biancone this time

Last year, trainer Patrick Biancone had the Blue Grass favorite with Lion Heart, who finished second to The Cliff's Edge. This year, Biancone is in a far different position with Spanish Chestnut, one of the longer shots in the race.

"It is a good thing the horses can't read the odds," said Biancone.

Spanish Chestnut became one of the top Derby prospects in Southern California early this winter by winning two straight races, including the Jan. 15 San Rafael Stakes. But then he ran third in the March 5 Santa Catalina and sixth as the 2-1 favorite in the March 26 Lane's End, meaning he will have to do a lot better Saturday if he is to proceed toward the Derby.

"He deserves one more chance against the best," said Biancone.

Commonwealth looks like a good one

A sensational renewal of the $400,000 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Stakes is on tap for the Blue Grass undercard. Among the probable starters for the seven-furlong race are Cajun Beat, the 2003 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner; Lion Tamer, the 2004 Commonwealth winner; Bwana Charlie; Clock Stopper; Gators N Bears; and Sir Shackleton.

* Jockey Dean Sarvis has been fined $250 by the Keeneland stewards for misuse of his whip during the eighth race Saturday. Sarvis struck his mount, Spinfire, several times near the head when trying to prevent the horse from bolting on the first turn.