05/29/2004 12:00AM

Midway Road to skip Foster for Brooklyn


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Midway Road, the 2003 Preakness runner-up, who most recently finished second behind Southern Image in the May 14 Pimlico Special, will skip the June 12 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in order to run instead in the Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park the same day.

Trainer Neil Howard said Saturday that he and owner Will Farish decided last week that the Grade 2, $250,000 Brooklyn was the best spot for Midway Road, in large part because the colt would not have to run back against Southern Image, trained by Mike Machowsky.

"Our horse ran his eyeballs out and still got beat," said Howard. "Sometimes that's very tough on a horse, to go against that same horse. If Southern Image comes here, that would have to mean that the horse is doing very good, as judicious as Mike has been with him. It was a very tough call, missing the biggest race of the Churchill meet after the Derby, but we felt it was the way we had to go."

The defection of Midway Road leaves Southern Image, Peace Rules, and Perfect Drift as the biggest names for the Grade 1, $750,000 Foster.

McPeek's Brazilians have been productive

In the last year and a half, Brazilian horses have become an integral part of the Ken McPeek stable.

"They're good, solid, tough horses," said McPeek.

Their records bear that out. McPeek trains six Brazilian imports, and four have won at least an allowance race in the United States, if not considerably more. The best, Hard Buck, is a multiple stakes winner who most recently was second in the $2 million Dubai Sheema Classic in March.

Monday, another of the hard-hitting Brazilian-breds, Art Variety, will be one of the top contenders in the Louisville Handicap. McPeek said he is optimistic that Art Variety, a consistent closer, will be a serious contender in the late stages of the 1 3/8-mile turf race.

Hard Buck, meanwhile, runs next at Arlington Park in the July 4 Stars and Stripes. "If he wins, we'll probably take him to the King George at Ascot," said McPeek.

Castro finds his way onto a winner

Eddie Castro, the 2003 Eclipse Award winner for top apprentice and the current leading rider at Calder, won in his first trip to Churchill when he guided Callinthetroops to a $17 upset in the first race Saturday.

Castro, who was in from his south Florida base to ride Stay Forever in the Mint Julep, got the mount almost by accident, according to Denis Roberson, trainer of Callinthetroops.

"I was looking for somebody who could do the 110 pounds," said Roberson, adding that he tried to get Rafael Bejarano or Willie Martinez but both already had mounts in the race.

But Julio Espinoza, Martinez's agent, was handling business for Castro, and he suggested that Roberson give Castro a try. Roberson said owner Joe Margherio and his partners "loved the idea of having a leading rider from anywhere. I

couldn't be happier with how it turned out."

Jockey is back, but agent still banned

Jockey Dean Butler returns to action Monday with three mounts after serving a 15-day suspension for careless riding. Meanwhile, jockey agent Michael McGary, known as Clarence, continues to work for Butler despite being banned from all Churchill properties.

Dozens of "Free Clarence" T-shirts have been printed for his supporters to wear, although McGary said negotiations to allow him back on the grounds are ongoing. McGary was banned May 16 for cashing an acquaintance's winning ticket that required IRS notification.