04/18/2004 11:00PM

Oaks lineup taking shape faster than Derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - While an amorphous field for Kentucky Derby 130 continues to search for its shape, the field for its sister race, the Kentucky Oaks, already has considerably more firmness to it than the Derby.

As of Monday, 11 fillies were considered probable for the Grade 1 Oaks, which is set for April 30, the day before the Derby. As usual, the 1 1/8-mile Oaks is expected to get the cream of the 3-year-old filly crop, which this year includes Halfbridled, Madcap Escapade, Silent Sighs, Victory U. S. A., and more.

With known jockey assignments, these are the candidates for the $500,000 Oaks:

A.P. Adventure, Mike Smith; Ashado, John Velazquez; Class Above, Corey Nakatani; Halfbridled, Alex Solis; Hollywood Story, Victor Espinoza; House of Fortune, Gary Stevens; Island Sand, Terry Thompson; Last Song, Robby Albarado; Madcap Escapade, Jerry Bailey; Silent Sighs, David Flores; and Victory U. S. A., Pat Day.

Both of trainer Bob Baffert's Oaks candidates were out for their penultimate prerace works in recent days at Churchill, with Victory U. S. A. going five furlongs in 1:01 on Sunday and Class Above going the same distance in a bullet 59 seconds the following morning.

Rock Hard Ten might enter Derby Trial

The Churchill meet opens Saturday with the Grade 3 Derby Trial, a $100,000-added race that figures to harbor implications toward the Derby only if trainer Jason Orman decides to run Rock Hard Ten in the one-mile race.

Orman said Sunday after Rock Hard Ten worked seven furlongs at Churchill that he probably will not run the colt in the Trial, but even if Rock Hard Ten ran and won, wheeling right back in the Derby would be doubtful.

With or without Rock Hard Ten, the Trial appears to be shaping up with a small to midsized field, with the following 3-year-olds probables: Bwana Charlie, Capac, Sir Shackleton, Tricky Taboo, and Yankee Won.

Bwana Charlie, winner of the Lafayette at Keeneland, and Capac, a Derby hopeful until losing his last start in late February, probably would vie for favoritism in the absence of Rock Hard Ten.

NYRA steward to fill in at Churchill

Officials with the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority revealed at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday in Lexington that Dr. Ted Hill, who serves as The Jockey Club steward for the New York Racing Association, has been hired to work as the interim chief steward at Churchill during Derby Week.

Hill will temporarily displace Mickey Sample, who in recent months has served as interim steward in Kentucky. Sample will return after the Derby.

Meanwhile, Bernie Hettel, who served as chief steward and executive director for the state's now-defunct regulatory agency, the Kentucky Racing Commission, before resigning under pressure in January, has been hired by Churchill as a consultant on policy relating to official racing matters.

Attendance record for three-day weekend

Helped no doubt by ideal spring weather, Keeneland drew a record total attendance of 73,004 for a three-day weekend, including an all-time record 31,028 on Saturday.

Keeneland president Nick Nicholson attributed the huge turnouts "partly to weather, partly the great racing we've had, and partly the excitement that's building toward a fantastic Kentucky Derby. Whatever it is, it's working."

The Friday attendance of 20,010 included nearly 3,000 college students, some lured by the raffle of 10 scholarships worth $1,000 each. The Sunday attendance of 21,766 was a record for a Sunday at Keeneland.

Day and Asmussen in position to take titles

With just three days left at the meet, it appears that Pat Day is on his way to his 22nd Keeneland jockey title. Through Sunday, Day led the jockey standings with 18 winners, followed by Shane Sellers with 13 and Robby Albarado with 10.

In the trainers' race, Steve Asmussen notched his meet-leading eighth win Sunday when his uncoupled entry of Lunarpal and Temporary Zone finished one-two in a 2-year-old maiden dash, forming a $65 exacta. Asmussen leads Ken McPeek by two wins.

Asmussen said he will point Lunarpal and another impressive winner earlier in the meet, Goes, to the $100,000 Three Chimneys Juvenile on the Derby undercard.

Smith and Bindner take Friday's early double

Owner Jack Smith and trainer Walt Bindner Jr. enjoyed a day they will always remember when they teamed Friday to win the early daily double at Keeneland. Rio Ruckus, co-owned by Smith with Steve Greene, won the opener at 51-1, after which Premier Performer captured the second at a $13.20 mutuel. The $2 double returned $344.20.

"I'd compare the feeling with Laura's Pistolette winning [the Humana Distaff] on Kentucky Derby Day 1995," said Smith. "But Walter deserves all the accolades. He really had those horses prepared right."

Roses in May to stay in allowances for now

Roses in May, a 12-length winner of a second-level allowance race Saturday at Keeneland, probably will remain in the allowance ranks for the time being, said trainer Dale Romans.

"I thought he'd run big, but I had no idea he'd beat that field that much," Romans said.

Wagoner, former Derby starter, in hospital

Tom Wagoner, who was the starter for every Kentucky Derby from 1974 to 1996, is recuperating in St. Joseph's Hospital in Lexington after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery April 13.

Roger Nagle, who replaced Wagoner at Churchill, said his former boss had experienced breathing trouble before the operation. Wagoner, 71, lives in Lexington year-round except during the annual meet at Oaklawn Park, where he is still the starter.

Congaree back with a bullet

Congaree, the $3.25 million earner who missed the April 10 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup at Keeneland because of a bout with colic, is back on track for the Churchill Downs Handicap on the Derby undercard. The 6-year-old horse worked a bullet five furlongs Saturday in 59 seconds at Churchill.

* Trainer Chuck Simon said he is toying with the idea of switching Strength and Honor to the grass for his next start by running the 5-year-old gelding in the April 30 Aegon Turf Sprint. Strength and Honor was an impressive winner of an April 2 dirt allowance at Keeneland.

* The Louisville Trackside simulcast facility will be closed Saturday through Thursday before reopening on Oaks Day, April 30, for the balance of the Churchill spring meet.