04/04/2003 12:00AM

Mystery Giver at uncharted distance

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Mystery Giver, a close fifth March 23 in the Grade 2 Explosive Bid at Fair Grounds, could expand his distance horizons later this month at Keeneland. Trainer Chris Block said Friday that Mystery Giver might make his next start April 23 in the Grade 3 Elkhorn, a 1 1/2-mile race that would be the longest of Mystery Giver's career.

Block and his family, Mystery Giver's owners, are still smarting over the Explosive Bid loss. Mystery Giver had won his previous start, the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, by more than three lengths. Among the horses he beat that day was Candid Glen, who won the Explosive Bid. Block, who turns Mystery Giver over to trainer Richie Scherer for the winter, felt Mystery Giver made a premature move on the far turn of the Explosive Bid, leaving him flat in the final furlong.

"It was a missed opportunity," Block said. "He was doing so well."

Stabled now with Block at Hawthorne, Mystery Giver still is thriving, but Block needs a race for the horse.

"He's still doing really well. There just aren't many races out there for him right now," Block said. The timing of the Elkhorn fits, and if Mystery Giver can handle the marathon distance, "it opens up other areas for us," Block added.

While Mystery Giver is in the middle of his campaign, Cashel Castle, also trained by Block, is far from Hawthorne taking the first baby steps toward the beginning of his racing season. Unraced since last spring, Cashel Castle resumed light training March 1 on a farm outside Ocala, Fla.

Cashel Castle easily won the Lafayette at Keeneland and finished second in the Derby Trial last spring, but came down with an injury in the weeks after the Derby Trial. Cashel Castle had cartilage damage, but later was diagnosed with a tendon problem in his right foreleg.

"We gave it a lot of time to heal, and we're just hoping that he comes around," Block said. "Were looking at a long-range program where he comes around slowly. We'll roll the dice in mid-summer and see if he can hold up."

Speed bias busted

Sportsman's Park sits dormant on the property adjacent to Hawthorne's, but when the National Jockey Club meet began this March at Hawthorne, it looked like Sportsman's all over again. After it converted to a dual-purpose auto and horse racing facility, Sportsman's became known for its intense inside speed biases, but as strong as the bias was at Sportsman's, it was equally powerful here last winter and early in this meet.

But the bias has shifted in recent weeks, and not by accident. Hawthorne director of operations Thomas Carey said track management made a decision to try and counter the bias by changing the way the track was maintained.

"There was a recognition of how the track was playing, and we wanted to do whatever we could," Carey said.

When it got warm enough, the track crew put deeper harrows on its tractors to make the surface deeper and, hopefully, more even.

"I think it allowed us to balance the track out," Carey said. "Last week was fair. We had a lot of horses coming from off the pace."

Can Bohunk handle dirt?

On a speed-biased racing surface, Bohunk wouldn't have much chance to win Sunday's featured race here. The first-level allowance race, with an optional $35,000 claiming tag, is for 3-year-olds at six furlongs. But on a fair track, Bohunk is the horse to beat - provided he can run as well on dirt as on turf.

Bohunk, from the Hugh Robertson barn, wintered at Fair Grounds, where he looked good in a schooling race and even better in his career debut Feb. 3, which he won by two lengths. Bohunk finished seventh in his second start, but he was beaten only six lengths in a two-turn race run over a yielding course, and probably is better suited to sprint races. Bohunk has never raced on dirt, but he has trained like a horse that handles it.

Bohunk has three primary rivals - Mister Fox, Right Uppercut, and Confess to Me. Mister Fox has been claimed from each of his first two starts - a win in a $20,000 maiden claiming race and a close second in a $30,000 conditioned claiming race - and now makes a positive step up in class for his new connections. Right Uppercut apparently will scratch from Saturday's Lost Code Stakes in favor of this race, while Confess to Me just won a race at this class level and returns for a $35,000 tag.