03/20/2003 1:00AM

Private Gold facing softer in Rushaway

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FLORENCE, Ky. - Six months ago trainer Pat Byrne arrived at Turfway Park hoping that Private Gold would step forward as one of the better horses in his class.

But after Vindication, the eventual 2-year-old champion, drubbed Private Gold and a handful of others on a September afternoon in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, Byrne decided it was time to set his sights a little lower. Since then, Private Gold has competed in less conspicuous races, doing okay while trying to knock out a decent living.

"He kind of didn't pan out, at least not yet," said Byrne.

But everything is relative, even in horse racing, and when Private Gold runs Saturday in the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes, the colt deserves to be among the favorites.

Byrne is encouraged by the way Private Gold has been training recently at Palm Meadows in south Florida. The colt was shipped to Kentucky from Palm Meadows on Thursday.

"I keep saying the weather has been so hot in Florida the last few weeks that the horses shipping north are going to come out of their skins [because of cooler weather]," said Byrne. "This colt is that way. I really feel like he's going to run big Saturday."

Most recently, Private Gold has been facing tough fields of turf horses at Gulfstream Park. Byrne believes the switch back to dirt and what figures to be softer opposition should give the colt the opportunity to score an overdue victory.

"We've got Pat Day riding, so maybe we'll get lucky," Byrne said.

Ten other 3-year-olds are entered in the Rushaway, a 1 1/16-mile race that is one of four stakes on Saturday's Lane's End Stakes undercard.

The ninth of 12 races, the Rushaway directly precedes the Lane's End and will be shown live on an ESPN2 broadcast that begins at 4 p.m. Eastern.

Probably the top challengers in the Rushaway are Dance Pro, Honeagle, and Tito's Beau.

Adopted Daughter contender in Bourbonette

The richest and probably best betting race of the undercard stakes is the $150,000 Bourbonette Breeders' Cup Stakes (race 8), which drew a full field of 3-year-old fillies.

Adopted Daughter, most recently third in the Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park for trainer Ronny Werner, is one of a handful of contenders in the one-mile race.

Unbridled Femme, a runaway winner of the Valdale Stakes over a sloppy track here March 1, also merits a solid chance if she can repeat that effort.

Day's mount, Fircroft, will break from post 12, trying to regain the form that carried her to victory last fall in the Miss Grillo at Aqueduct.

Senorita Ziggy, Timeless Love in Queen

Two of the top contenders in the $50,000 Queen Stakes (race 6) - Senorita Ziggy and Timeless Love - are familiar to Turfway fans. Both are entered off sharp allowance victories over the track.

Senorita Ziggy has won six of 15 starts for trainer Marty Rouck, who also works as a mutuel clerk at Churchill Downs and Trackside in Louisville. A 5-year-old Indiana-bred mare, Senorita Ziggy has been in the money in 13 of 15 starts.

Timeless Love, trained by William "Buff" Bradley, tends to do her best work at Turfway, where she won the Gowell Stakes late in her 2-year-old season. In her last three races, all at Turfway, she has two wins and one second.

Seven other fillies and mares are entered in the six-furlong Queen.

* The $50,000 Hansel Stakes (race 7) drew a field of eight 3-year-olds. Quick Draw, a recent maiden winner at Gulfstream, might go off a slight favorite for Day and Lukas in the six-furlong race.