03/17/2004 1:00AM

Quick Action gets a second chance


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Of the 19 3-year-olds trainer D. Wayne Lukas nominated to the Triple Crown, Quick Action is the only one to have won a race this year. Quick Action earned that victory in the six-furlong Fred "Cappy" Capossela Stakes over Aqueduct's inner track in January.

Quick Action was unsuccessful in his first attempt around two turns, finishing third, beaten three lengths, in the Whirlaway Stakes on Feb. 7. Saturday, Quick Action will be given a second chance to stretch out his speed - albeit around one turn - in the Grade 3, $200,000 Gotham Stakes over Aqueduct's main track.

The Gotham is an important race for Quick Action in that it will help determine whether he gets another chance to become a Derby horse, or if he'll be kept sprinting.

"This is the fork in the road for him," said Peter Hutton, the New York assistant for Lukas.

Hutton isn't convinced that Quick Action will be limited to sprinting. Hutton believes that had Quick Action drawn an outside post in the Whirlaway, he might have fared better. Breaking from post 2 under Heberto Castillo, Quick Action was forced to be part of the pace and though he opened up a 1 1/2-length lead in the stretch, he tired late.

"Herbie said going into the first turn he was comfortable, he wasn't in the bridle," Hutton said. "Shaun [Bridgmohan] was smooching to his horse on the outside and that's one thing that this horse will react to. If he gets to relax on the outside a little bit, he gets to dictate his own race."

Coincidentally, Bridgmohan will replace Castillo aboard Quick Action on Saturday.

Hutton said Quick Action trains like a horse who would relax in the early stages of a race. If he can do that Saturday and be successful, then perhaps Lukas will be able to continue down the Derby trail. Lukas, a four-time Derby winner, has run at least one horse in 22 of the last 23 Derbies.

"With Wayne you never know where they're going to come from," Hutton said. "Like I was telling somebody the other day, nobody's kissed more frogs that turned into princesses than Wayne."

The other 18 horses Lukas has nominated to the Triple Crown are a combined 0 for 25 this year. That includes a last place finish Wednesday at Aqueduct by Maverick, a half-brother to 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm.

Rockhewn added to Gotham field

Rockhewn, who has won two of his first three starts, will make his stakes debut in the Gotham, bringing the number of definite starters to eight.

Rockhewn, a son of Formal Dinner, won his first two starts, both at Philadelphia Park. He shipped to New York for a second-level allowance at a mile and 70 yards on Feb. 22 and finished a rallying second behind War's Prospect after being farther back than normal early.

"We were encouraged off his last race," trainer Butch Reid said from Maryland. "There are a couple of things we can change up."

Reid said that Rockhewn bled a little bit in that allowance race and will run on Lasix for the first time. Reid also believes that Rockhewn didn't handle the inner track too well. To illustrate his point, Reid pointed out that Rockhewn was farther off the pace after six furlongs run in 1:14 than he was after six furlongs run in 1:10.60 in his previous race.

"I don't think that'll be the case this time," Reid said.

Reid also mentioned that Rockhewn didn't ship that well for his last race. Reid plans to van him to Aqueduct on Friday, to allow the horse sufficient time to settle into his new surroundings. Reid has not yet confirmed a rider for Rockhewn.

Freeroll makes 2004 bow in Cicada

Most of the attention surrounding trainer Mark Hennig on Saturday will center on Eddington in the Gotham. But, Hennig will also be a player in the Grade 3, $100,000 Cicada Stakes the same day with Freeroll.

Freeroll, a daughter of Touch Gold, has not raced since winning an entry-level allowance race at Aqueduct by a neck over Fond. Fond has come back to win a pair of stakes during the inner-track meet.

Freeroll trained at Gulfstream Park all winter, but did not race there. Second-level allowance races were few and far between and Hennig did not want to start Freeroll off in a stakes at Gulfstream.

"She had a case of skin disease down there; the first half of the winter she didn't have that great a time of it," Hennig said. "She's settled in and been doing really well of late."

The Cicada is not coming up an especially tough race. The undefeated Among My Souvenirs, winner of the Dearly Precious Stakes here last out, heads the field. Bohemian Lady, She's a Mugs, Whirlwind Charlott, and Whoopi Cat are the other definite starters. Baldomera and Silmaril are possible.

Candlin looks to stay hot

Trainer John Candlin has saddled two winners from his first five starters at the main-track meet. He could be live in Friday's featured entry-level allowance race with Esther's Star, who has won her last two starts on the main track.

Esther's Star, a New York-bred daughter of Star Gallant, went 1 for 5 over the inner track. Prior to that, she won back-to-back races over the main last November. She has shown the ability to handle a wet track, but must prove she can get the one-turn mile distance.

The royally bred Possibility, Butterface, and Points West are the main competition.