04/07/2003 11:00PM

McPeek thinking his filly is primed

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Once in a while, Midnight Cry runs off the proverbial television screen. Interspersed with some rather disappointing losses during her seven-race career are three impressive victories, and it is those runaway wins that have led trainer Ken McPeek to try Midnight Cry in Thursday's $250,000 Stonerside Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland.

Last fall at Keeneland, Midnight Cry ran big in defeating a decent group of entry-level allowance fillies. Three starts later, it was the same story when she drew off to win the Grade 3 Forward Gal Stakes on March 14 at Gulfstream.

"I want to think she's got a couple of those big races coming up," said McPeek.

Midnight Cry, by Smart Strike, was given nearly two months off following a second-place finish in the Great State Challenge in Houston in early December. "She came back a lot bigger and stronger," said McPeek.

If she runs well Thursday, then Midnight Run could run back in the May 2 Kentucky Oaks, said McPeek. Last year, McPeek saddled the favorite and eventual runner-up, Take Charge Lady, in the Oaks.

Running Midnight Cry wouldn't be the only major endeavor for McPeek on May 2. He also hopes to run Take Charge Lady on the Oaks undercard in the $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup, a race in which Azeri also may run. Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, was all out to nail Take Charge Lady on the wire in the Apple Blossom last weekend at Oaklawn Park.

"It was a tough beat, but our filly was unbelievable," said McPeek.

Touch of the Blues to defend

Touch of the Blues, upset winner of the Maker's Mark Mile last year for trainer Neil Drysdale, is expected back Friday for the 15th running of that Grade 2 turf race.

A full field of 10 older turf horses is expected for the $200,000 Maker's Mark. Besides Touch of the Blues, who will be ridden again by Kent Desormeaux, the other major contenders include Decarchy for Bobby Frankel and Miesque's Approval for Bill Mott.

Probably the most intriguing prospect for the Maker's Mark is Perfect Drift, the gelding who ran third in the Kentucky Derby last year. Perfect Drift, trained by Murray Johnson, will be making his turf debut.

Touch of the Blues was scheduled to arrive Wednesday on a plane from California. Quite a few stakes horses also were booked on that charter flight, including Kentucky Derby contender Atswhatimtalknbout, who was scheduled to take up residence in Barn 41 at Churchill Downs.

Summer training to be cut back

To ensure that the massive renovation of its facility remains on schedule, Churchill has announced that morning training will be dramatically scaled back two days a week after the spring meet ends July 6.

Mondays and Tuesdays probably will be the days when training is restricted to 4:30 to 6 a.m. Eastern. Many horsemen are stabled at Churchill from March through December.

Current training hours are 5:15 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Traditionally, Churchill allowed training from 6 to 10 a.m., but those hours were revised last year when construction on the $121 million project began in earnest. David Sweazy, Churchill's director of operations, said the timetable for completing certain phases of construction in time for the 2004 Kentucky Derby is "critical" and that construction crews need every available hour of daylight to meet deadlines.

Springer off to hot start

It was right about this time last year that trainer Frank "Bobby" Springer was stabled at Keeneland and that War Emblem was in the process of being sold by Springer's longtime client Russell Reineman. Trainer Bob Baffert bought War Emblem for The Thoroughbred Corp., and as everyone is well aware, the rest is history.

Springer is at Keeneland again this spring, and if there is anything that might help a trainer get some momentary relief from the torture of knowing a horse was removed from his barn just a few weeks before winning the Kentucky Derby, it's this: winning.

Springer is off to a terrific start at the meet, having sent out two romping winners on opening weekend: Bounding Charm won the fourth race Friday, and Ide Be a Lady captured the second race Sunday.