04/01/2008 11:00PM

Pletcher colt comes into focus

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - While Todd Pletcher kept his better 3-year-olds in south Florida and Southern California this winter, it may turn out that the horse who takes him back to the Kentucky Derby was sitting chilly in New York.

Texas Wildcatter, a son of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, literally emerged from the fog last month as a potential Derby prospect with a strong second-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes over the inner track. His nose loss to Visionaire earned Texas Wildcatter a spot in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial, where he'll most likely need a first- or second-place finish to have enough graded stakes earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby field.

Texas Wildcatter is owned and was bred by Stonerside Stable, which won the 2001 Wood with Congaree and the 2006 Wood with Bob and John.

Texas Wildcatter won his debut at Arlington going a mile last August, but an illness forced him to miss the Arlington-Washington Futurity a month later. He returned to the races in a first-level allowance in the fall at Churchill, where he finished fifth to Cool Coal Man.

"Considering the amount of time he lost, it was probably a better effort than we gave him credit for at the time," Pletcher said. "Everything since then has been a step in the right direction."

Texas Wildcatter won a first-level allowance race by 10 1/2 lengths at Philadelphia Park on Dec. 28 before finishing third to Barrier Reef in the Whirlaway over the inner track in February. Pletcher felt that effort was good enough to try the Gotham.

Equipped with blinkers for the first time in the Gotham, Texas Wildcatter raced in fifth position early, made a four-wide move toward the leaders entering the far turn, and assumed the lead at the quarter pole. He opened up a clear advantage in midstretch, only to be caught by Visionaire in the last jump.

"We had lost ground in the Whirlaway on the far turn, so we were overly cautious about not doing that again and probably ended up moving a little sooner than we really needed to," Pletcher said. "We made the lead a little bit early and kind of got caught off guard at the end."

Norberto Arroyo Jr., aboard for the Gotham, is being replaced by Eibar Coa for the Wood, contested at 1 1/8 miles over the main track.

Pletcher will also run Spurrier in the Wood. A son of Dixieland Band, Spurrier has won his last two starts, both in two-turn races over the inner track. Pletcher noted that blinkers have made a big difference in Spurrier's performance. His owner, the Peachtree Stable, paid $6,000 to make him a late nominee to the Triple Crown.

Magna Graduate seeks repeat

Pletcher will also start two horses in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Excelsior Handicap, including defending race winner Magna Graduate and the late-developing Nite Light.

Magna Graduate looked to be an emerging handicap star last season after posting back-to-back wins in the Razorback and Excelsior handicaps and getting beat a head in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap. But the rest of the year did not go well for Magna Graduate, who carries a seven-race losing streak into the Excelsior.

Pletcher said he was encouraged by Magna Graduate's third-place finish in the Mineshaft Handicap at Fair Grounds in February, but was baffled by his fifth-place finish in the New Orleans Handicap there last month. Pletcher put blinkers on Magna Graduate for that race, but is taking them off for this one.

"We tried to shake things up, but the blinkers didn't solve the problem," said Pletcher, who will use Garrett Gomez on Magna Graduate.

Nite Light showed he may be more than a marathon specialist when he won the John B. Campbell Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 16 at Laurel. It was his fourth consecutive victory. This will be Nite Light's first appearance in a graded stakes.

"At the moment the horse is doing very well," Pletcher said.

Others expected for the Excelsior include Naughty New Yorker, Delosvientos, Malibu Moonshine, Angliana, Wafi City, and Temporary Saint. Possible runners include Ryan's for Real, Sightseeing, Successful Affair, Mayan King, and Miner's Lamp.

No Ferriola-Paragallo team

If Pete Ferriola makes a comeback to training it won't be for Paraneck Stable.

Ferriola and Ernie Paragallo, the authorized agent for his family-owned Paraneck Stable, both confirmed Wednesday that Ferriola won't train for Paraneck as was expected. Ferriola, a three-time leading trainer on this circuit, arrived in New York on March 25, and had been at Paraneck's barn for five days, but he and Paragallo seemingly had a difference of opinion over how things should be run.

Paragallo said Ferriola was "more interested in new office furniture and flat-screen televisions and never looked at the horses."

Ferriola denied that assertion and said Paragallo and his staff were trying to tell him how to train and he wouldn't stand for that.

"You don't come here and tell me how to train horses," Ferriola said. "Your system's no good; it's very simple. I'm not going to compromise myself. I'm too good at what I do."

Ferriola, who retired in 2000, said he will stick around New York for a little while and decide whether to try and return to training or return to Florida.

"Some people want to talk to me," Ferriola said. "If it happens, it happens, if it doesn't it don't matter. I'll head in my car and go home."

Joe DeMola will continue to train for Paraneck.

Fee Fi Fo Fum finds spot

After two defeats at Gulfstream Park, Fee Fi Fo Fum may have found the right field to help her clear the first-level allowance hurdle Friday at Aqueduct. The $51,000 race, run at one mile, is the featured event on a nine-race card.

In her first start this year, Fee Fi Fo Fum was beaten eight lengths in an off-the-turf allowance race run in the slop on Feb. 9. The winner of that race, Callie's Joy, came back to win a second-level allowance at Turfway Park on March 28. In her most recent start, Fee Fi Fo Fum was beaten 2 3/4 lengths by Contentious in a 1 1/16-mile turf race.

The main threats are So Smashley, a winner of two straight New York-bred allowance races, and Starship Cruiser.

All Night Labor takes Perfect Poppy

The surface may have changed but speed remained the essential ingredient to get to the winner's circle Wednesday at Aqueduct. Six of the nine winners were first or second at the first call on the first day of the main-track meeting, including All Night Labor, who won a pace duel with Lucky Revival before drawing clear to a one-length victory in the $68,700 Perfect Poppy Stakes for fillies and mares. Morning Gallop rallied for second.

All Night Labor, a 4-year-old daughter of Double Honor, won for the third straight time. Owned and trained by Tracy Nunley, All Night Labor covered the mile in 1:38.06 and returned $19.60 to win.

* Jockey Alan Garcia, who was aboard Morning Gallop, was taken to North Shore University Hospital as a precaution after he fainted in the jocks' room following the eighth. He was reported to be conscious.