02/28/2006 12:00AM

McLaughlin thinking Derby again


BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin says he doesn't think about last year's Kentucky Derby too much. He doesn't obsess with how tantalizingly close he came - about four feet - to pulling off one of the biggest upsets in Kentucky Derby history with 71-1 shot Closing Argument.

"I think about it sometimes, but I don't think about it and get upset or anything," McLaughlin said Monday at his barn at the Palm Meadows training center here. "It's all good - half a length from being famous. It was a great thrill. To go through it all the first time, it was a great experience."

McLaughlin, 45, would like to experience another Kentucky Derby come May 6. On Saturday, he will get an idea how realistic his Derby dreams are when he runs the uncoupled entry of Flashy Bull and Jazil in the Grade 2, $300,000 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.

Both horses are only maiden winners, both having won off-the-turf races in New York last fall. Still, both have given McLaughlin reason to believe they have the goods to make a run for the roses.

Flashy Bull, a son of Holy Bull owned by West Point Stable, finished second to leading Derby contender Bluegrass Cat in last year's Remsen at Aqueduct. He is 1 for 7 overall and began his 3-year-old campaign with a fourth-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes, run over a sloppy track.

Jazil is a son of Seeking the Gold out of the Grade 2 stakes-winning mare Better Than Honour owned by Shadwell Stable. He is 1 for 4 and will make his stakes debut in the Fountain of Youth. But McLaughlin is quite high on this colt, who possesses a potent closing kick.

"I like him a lot," McLaughlin said of Jazil.

McLaughlin said the chart of Jazil's first race on Oct. 23 at Belmont Park is somewhat deceiving and doesn't do the performance justice. McLaughlin believes Jazil was some 30 lengths off the early pace in the 5 1/2-furlong race before he came on to finish sixth, beaten 15 3/4 lengths by Noonmark, who went on to win again and who will likely be favored in Saturday's Swale Stakes at Gulfstream. The past performance chart had him 13 lengths off the lead at the first call.

"I promise you he was 35 lengths out of it at the three-eighths pole," McLaughlin said. "He was in a different area code. Then he came flying and he galloped out past them all except the winner. The chart makes it look like he ran even."

In his next start, Jazil rallied from far back again and was beaten a nose by Steppenwolfer, who has since won an allowance race and run second in last week's Southwest Stakes. Jazil finally won a maiden race in an off-the-turf, 1 1/16-mile race run over Aqueduct's inner track in December.

In his 3-year-old debut, a nine-furlong entry-level allowance race at Gulfstream, Jazil raced much closer to the pace than in his previous starts and finished a good second behind Corinthian, who is also running in the Fountain of Youth. McLaughlin thought Jazil's performance was worthy of running him back in a stakes.

"We have to step it up and try, because graded earnings become an issue along with trying to see how much of a horse we do have," said McLaughlin, who maintains a 70-horse string split evenly between New York and Florida.

McLaughlin said Cornelio Velasquez will ride Jazil. Velasquez had ridden by Flashy Bull in his last two starts. Rafael Bejarano will ride Flashy Bull.

Flashy Bull ran respectably in four sprints before winning a maiden race in a one-turn, 1 1/16-mile race that was taken off the turf at Belmont on Oct. 26. The third-place finisher from that race, Greeley's Legacy, has come back to win twice.

In the Remsen, Flashy Bull chased Bluegrass Cat all the way around the track, settling for second. Bluegrass Cat won the Tampa Bay Derby in his first start since the Remsen.

"We were just second-best on the day, but that's not too bad, to be second-best to Bluegrass Cat," McLaughlin said. "I thought we were going to get him, but we just couldn't get by."

In the Holy Bull, Flashy Bull had post 8 in the 12-horse field and was hung wide while racing relatively close to the pace. He was second in midstretch before weakening to fourth.

"He needed his last race," McLaughlin said. "He's a little bit lazy to train and he needed the race. We certainly weren't looking for his best effort that early in the year."

While he may not be looking for their best efforts come Saturday, Jazil and Flashy Bull will have to raise their game if McLaughlin's Derby dreams are to remain alive.