04/23/2004 11:00PM

Paragallo's bluff snags 'Rock'

Bill Foster, stable foreman for trainer John Servis, walks Smarty Jones at Churchill Downs on Saturday following his five-furlong workout.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ernie Paragallo bluffed. Rock Hard Ten folded, at least temporarily. Sinister G folded, for good. St Averil called. And Smarty Jones raised the stakes. Seven days out from the 130th Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs on Saturday became the newest site of the World Poker Tour.

On a day filled with intrigue and subterfuge, Song of the Sword secured a spot in the Derby field when Sinister G officially was dropped from consideration. But Paragallo, the owner of Song of the Sword, might have cost Rock Hard Ten a spot in the race with his cunning.

On Friday, Paragallo said he was strongly considering bypassing the Derby with Song of the Sword. That, along with the shaky status of a number of other Derby contenders, caused the connections of Rock Hard Ten to scratch their colt from Saturday's Derby Trial in the belief they had a shot to make the Derby without additional earnings.

That plan might backfire.

Paragallo on Saturday said he was bluffing, with the hope Rock Hard Ten would scratch out of the Derby Trial. Had he won the Derby Trial, Rock Hard Ten would have surpassed Song of the Sword on the graded-earnings list. If more than 20 horses are entered on Wednesday in the Derby, the field is determined by earnings in graded-stakes races.

"We're back in," Paragallo said Saturday from Keeneland. "I was only out to keep him" - referring to Rock Hard Ten - "out of today's race. If he would have run today and won, he would have knocked me out."

Not necessarily. Value Plus is not expected to run in the Derby. If he does indeed come out, Song of the Sword would be 19th on the list, with Pro Prado 20th. Eddington and Rock Hard Ten would be bumped. If Rock Hard Ten had won the Derby Trial, and its first-prize money, he would have vaulted to 19th, but Song of the Sword would still have been 20th. In that case, Pro Prado and Eddington would have been bumped.

Jason Orman, the trainer of Rock Hard Ten, decided to scratch his colt from the Derby Trial after consulting with co-owners Ernie Moody and Madeleine Paulson. All of them preferred to bypass the Derby Trial if they were assured of a spot in the Derby, since they believe Rock Hard Ten would be best served by not running back in one week. But they decided to scratch before learning of Paragallo's bluff. Rock Hard Ten still might get in, but the prospects are dicey.

"We decided to scratch because it looked like he had a better chance to get in the Derby," Orman said. "We'll wait and see what happens. We think going straight into the Kentucky Derby gives him his best chance to run well in the Derby. We're trying to do what's best for the horse."

Rock Hard Ten had an eye-catching gallop on Saturday and is scheduled to work on Monday.

Rock Hard Ten, as well as Eddington, did move one spot closer to getting into the Derby when Sinister G was removed from consideration. His trainer, John Toscano Jr., said Sinister G suffered a relapse of the lung infection that was discovered following the Wood Memorial on April 10. Sinister G was put on antibiotics after that race, was taken off them, then was put back on antibiotics on Thursday.

"The horse is not 100 percent, and it would be insanity to run," Toscano said. "It would knock him out for the next six months."

St Averil, whose status for the Derby also was uncertain, apparently earned himself a spot in the race with a work at Santa Anita on Saturday that satisfied trainer Rafael Becerra.

"If he scopes clean and everything looks okay, it's a go," Becerra said, after St Averil worked six furlongs in 1:11.80 with jockey Tyler Baze. "I need to confer with the boss," Becerra said, referring to owner Stan Fulton.

St Averil has been troubled by sore feet and had been training in egg bar shoes on his front legs. "When you work that good in egg bars, that's pretty good," said Becerra, who said

St Averil would wear conventional shoes in the Derby.

Also at Santa Anita, Santa Anita Derby winner Castledale worked six furlongs in 1:12 with jockey Jose Valdivia Jr.

"I was looking for exactly what happened," said Jeff Mullins, who trains Castledale. "He did it pretty well on his own."

Castledale and St Averil are scheduled to travel together from California to Kentucky on Monday.

Here at Churchill Downs, Smarty Jones turned in the most impressive drill of recent days. The unbeaten winner of the Arkansas Derby ran fast but did it without any urging, covering five furlongs in 58 seconds on a track officially rated good; Daily Racing Form timed him in 58.29. Jockey Willie Martinez, who usually works Smarty Jones, was aboard. Stewart Elliott has the mount on Derby Day.

"I'm tickled to death," said John Servis, who trains Smarty Jones. "He settled nice, when a horse dropped over on him at the three-eighths he took a hold, and when Willie gave him his head he shot right through."

Smarty Jones has some blemishes on his left shoulder from a skin disease, but Servis said it is dissipating after flaring in Arkansas. "It's done now," Servis said.

Also working was Birdstone, last year's Champagne Stakes winner, who has had a tumultuous spring. He has not raced since a poor try in last month's Lane's End Stakes, and was forced to scratch from the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 10. He also worked quickly - five furlongs in 58.40 seconds under exercise rider Maxine Correa - but did not do it as effortlessly as Smarty Jones.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen, David Grening, and Karen M. Johnson