03/22/2004 1:00AM

Next stop, Kentucky Derby


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - It's looking more and more like Read the Footnotes - like his fellow New York-bred Friends Lake - will go directly from the Florida Derby into the Kentucky Derby on May 1.

"Right now I'm leaning strongly towards training Read the Footnotes right into the Derby," trainer Richard Violette said.

"It just seems to me there is more downside to running him again than not running him again. At the moment he's still the fastest 3-year-old out there, and he certainly doesn't have to earn his way in. If I can just get him back to that form, he's going to be very tough in the Derby."

Read the Footnotes won four of his five starts at 2, including a pair of graded races. He opened his 3-year-old campaign by outgaming Second of June to win the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, earning a 113 Beyer Speed Figure.

But as many feared, including Violette himself, the big effort in the Fountain of Youth might have taken a toll on Read the Footnotes in the Florida Derby. Read the Footnotes finished a tiring fourth after battling for the lead into the stretch.

Violette said he plans to keep Read the Footnotes at his winter home at Palm Meadows until shipping to Churchill Downs during Derby week.

"If I'm going to run him off training, I can't afford to take a chance of missing a week if it rains up in New York," said Violette. "I know no horse has won the Derby without a race in April since the 50's, but if a New York-bred gelding could win the race last year why can't we win it off a seven-week layoff this year?"

Violette remains uncertain what will be next for his other Kentucky Derby hopeful, Swingforthefences, who comes off a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby.

"Right now I'm leaving all my options open, including the Wood, Illinois Derby, or the Aventura here at Gulfstream," said Violette.

Friends Lake on similar itinerary

Trainer John Kimmel also remains committed to training Friends Lake into the Kentucky Derby. Upset winner of the $1 million Florida Derby, Friends Lake had a minor temperature the morning after that victory and may have had a virus when he won the Florida Derby.

"He had a temperature of 101 and change the next morning, which is slightly above normal," said Kimmel. "We pulled a blood on him just to be sure, and he had an elevated white count, which indicates he probably had something going on when he ran. I guess that should be worth at least five extra Beyer points, don't you think?"

Kimmel said he gave Friends Lake three extra days off before sending him back to the track on Sunday.

"He galloped a mile and one-quarter this morning and went well," said Kimmel on Sunday. "If all goes well I'll probably do a little something more serious with him next Monday."

Friends Lake will remain at Payson Park for the next several weeks, but will ship to Churchill Downs far enough in advance to work over the track and school several times in the paddock prior to the Derby.

Tagg might have a Preakness horse

Trainer Barclay Tagg may not have a candidate to defend the Kentucky Derby title he won last year with Funny Cide. But he may well have a candidate to defend his Preakness crown, based on the way Bride's Best Boy performed in winning his entry-level allowance condition here Monday.

Bride's Best Boy rallied from just off the pace to for an easy victory over the speedy Harbour Gate, with the 2-5 Wild Wadi finishing a well-beaten third in the seven-furlong dash. Bride's Best Boy, who had finished seventh in his previous start and had won his debut, covered the distance in 1:22.08.

"I've been impressed with this horse all along, but he flipped his palate in his second start and I had to operate on him," said Tagg. "Then it took him longer to heal up from the surgery than I expected. I had thoughts about the Derby with him earlier, but it would be ridiculous to think about making it with him now. But I really like the Preakness."

Tagg said he will ship Bride's Best Boy to New York along with Funny Cide next week and probably look to stretch him out to at least a mile in his next start.

Gorham's luck finally changes

Trainer Mike Gorham, frustrated by 21 second- and third-place finishes here this winter, finally saw his fortunes reverse when he won three races over the weekend, including two for owner John D. Murphy of Formal Gold fame.

"We didn't have a whole lot of luck here early," said Gorham. "We had some bad trips and a whole lot of seconds and thirds but I knew it would start to come around."

Horses departing

The barn areas both ontrack and at Palm Meadows are beginning to thin out, and filling some of the better races might be difficult over the final five weeks of the meet. A case in point is Wednesday's program, which is highlighted by a first-level allowance sprint for 3-year-old fillies for a $34,000 purse.

Baba Gonzo, overmatched against the likes of Madcap Escapade in the Old Hat Stakes, returns to the allowance division and may be favored in a field that includes the multiple stakes-placed - Trainer Bob Durso said he will turn Frisky Spider back to 6 1/2 furlongs for his next start, which will come in the $75,000 Hallandale Beach Stakes on April 10.

Frisky Spider tired badly after setting the pace in both the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby. He won his first three career starts sprinting.

"He came out of the Florida Derby fine, and I can't find any excuse for the way he ran," said Durso. "So I'll just shorten him back up for now and start all over again.

* There is a six-day carryover pool in the pick six Wednesday of $315,451. It is the largest carryover in track history.