03/20/2006 12:00AM

McLaughlin now has third hopeful

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin left New York on Monday morning for Dubai, where he will run two horses in multimillion dollar races Saturday at Nad Al Sheba Race Course. But he will certainly have plenty to look forward to when he returns to the U.S. next week.

McLaughlin will be a participant in Kentucky Derby prep races in each of the first three Saturdays in April, hoping to return to Churchill Downs, where last year he finished second in the Derby with 71-1 shot Closing Argument.

Like Now earned his spot in the $750,000 Wood Memorial on April 8 at Aqueduct with his front-running neck victory over Keyed Entry in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Gotham Stakes. It was Like Now's first victory around two turns and third straight overall. Though he's built like a sprinter, Like Now has a pedigree that suggests he'll get a distance of ground. A son of Jules, Like Now inspired his connections to try two turns after it took an outrider to pull him up following his victory in the six-furlong Fred "Cappy" Capossela Stakes last month.

"We thought he would get the distance," McLaughlin said. "The question was the quality of horses he would get the distance with, and this looked like a tough spot."

The speed duel that many anticipated would develop in the Grade 3 Gotham never did. McLaughlin said he believes that's because none of the other riders really felt Like Now could get the distance.

McLaughlin said Edgar Prado, the jockey of Keyed Entry, probably "was confident and waited for us to back up. That horse next time will give us a little more respect, which is a negative for us."

Before and after the Wood, McLaughlin will be represented in Derby preps with Flashy Bull in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 1 and Jazil in the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 15. Flashy Bull got elevated to second by the stewards after finishing third behind the disqualified Corinthian in the Fountain of Youth. Jazil finished seventh in that race, but was found to have bled. He has since shipped to Belmont Park to train for the Blue Grass.

The top four finishers from the Gotham could all run back in the Wood. The connections of Keyed Entry, Sweetnorthernsaint, and Greeley's Legacy have all listed the Wood as a likely target, though Michael Trombetta, the trainer of Sweetnorthernsaint, also mentioned the Illinois Derby the same day as a possibility.

Non-Gotham starters who could run in the Wood include Corinthian, Showing Up, and Marco's Tale.

Henny Hughes back to McLaughlin

When McLaughlin's Dubai runners Invasor and Mustanfar return to the U.S., they will be joined on the plane by Henny Hughes, who finished second last year in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. McLaughlin took over the training of Henny Hughes a few weeks before the Juvenile and will train him this year as well.

"We're going to bring him back, get him going to see which way we should be going," McLaughlin said.

Henny Hughes is not under consideration for the Kentucky Derby. Trained by Patrick Biancone for most of last year, Henny Hughes won the Tremont at Belmont and the Grade 2 Saratoga Special at Saratoga before running second in the Hopeful, Champagne, and BC Juvenile.

What's wrong with Achilles of Troy?

Achilles of Troy was scheduled to have his left front foot examined Tuesday. Fifth as the favorite in the Gotham, Achilles of Troy was vanned off with what was first described as an injury to his right foreleg.

On Monday, the connections of Achilles of Troy said the problem is in the left front foot.

Ernie Paragallo, the authorized agent for his family-run Paraneck Stable, said there was heat in Achilles of Troy's left front foot and that he had a superficial cut on the hoof, which had a little bit of blood. Paragallo said that Achilles of Troy is not sore.

Ramon Dominguez, who rode Achilles of Troy, said he felt Achilles of Troy was sore when he pulled him up after the race.

"Ramon never said the horse was sore during the race," Paragallo said.

Paragallo said he was disgusted with the trip Achilles of Troy got in the Gotham, but was quick not to blame Dominguez. Achilles of Troy broke last because he had his head turned the wrong way when the gates opened. He also was forced to check between horses entering the first turn as Dominguez tried to get him back in the race.

Paragallo said a member of the gate crew came up to him on Sunday to apologize for what happened at the start.

"The race wasn't a terrible race," Paragallo said. "He had a terrible trip."

Marco's Tale may earn Wood shot

Marco's Tale, a son of Tale of the Cat, may have earned himself a start in the Wood with a 2 3/4-length victory in an entry-level allowance race Sunday.

Making his first start since scoring a nine-length maiden win on Feb. 11, Marco's Tale displayed the ability to come from off the pace while parked four wide for most of the trip. He took command just outside the eighth pole and ran a strong final furlong in 12.24 seconds. He ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.99 and earned a modest Beyer Speed Figure of 86. Trained by Rene Araya, he has won his last two starts at nine furlongs.

Owner Paul Pompa said Monday he has several options for Marco's Tale, including the Wood Memorial on April 8.

"We're very excited about the horse right now," Pompa said. "We'll take a look at how the numbers come back, and we're going to see how it stands up against the other races. He's one more good race away from being in the big show."

There is also the possibility Marco's Tale could be sold. Pompa said he had turned down four offers for Marco's Tale following his maiden win, and that "there has been a substantial amount of interest" since Sunday's race.

"If somebody comes with a substantial offer you got to be smart about it," he said. "On the other, if I do decide to keep him I have no problem racing him.

Wild Gams may wait for Nassau County

With limited stakes opportunities for 3-year-old filly sprinters, it is possible Cicada Stakes winner Wild Gams will not run again until the Grade 2, $200,000 Nassau County at Belmont Park on May 6, trainer Ben Perkins Jr. said.

Wild Gams handed Celestial Legend her first defeat from seven starts in the Cicada, running by her in upper stretch to record a 3 1/2-length victory. It was the third straight victory for Wild Gams, a daughter of Forest Wildcat owned and bred by Ebby Novak.

Perkins said he didn't like the idea of shipping Wild Gams to Keeneland for the $200,000 Beaumont at Keeneland on April 13. Perkins said the major target for Wild Gams is the Grade 1 Prioress Stakes, a six-furlong race at Belmont on July 8.

Bank Audit retired at 5

Bank Audit, a multiple Grade 2 stakes winner, has been retired from racing and will be bred to Distorted Humor, trainer Frank Laboccetta Jr. said Monday. Bank Audit had been nominated to Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap, a race she won last spring.

"She always had some knees on her that gave us some trouble," Laboccetta said. "That, and it looked like she tailed off and she started to show some wear and tear."

Robert Amendola claimed Bank Audit for $65,000 on July 25, 2004. In 2005, Bank Audit won the Interborough, Distaff Breeders' Cup, and Grade 2 Genuine Risk Handicap. In the fall, she won the listed House Party Stakes.

Bank Audit, a 5-year-old daughter of Wild Rush and Mosquera, won 10 of 30 starts, with 6 seconds and 6 thirds. She earned $567,934.

Laboccetta said he believes that Amendola plans to sell an in-foal Bank Audit in one of the breeding stock sales next November.