04/24/2003 11:00PM

Rain forces trainers to adjust

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - And on Friday it rained.

What was expected to be a quiet day for Kentucky Derby hopefuls stabled at Churchill Downs became even quieter after rain turned the racetrack sloppy from the start of training at 5:15 a.m. until the conclusion four hours later.

For trainers with prospective Derby starters, Friday wound up a day to get them out, get them around, and get them back home safely - or in some cases not get them out at all. It was an inconvenience that could be tolerated for one morning with more than a week still remaining to apply the finishing touches before Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

What was most interesting was the manner in which horsemen with Derby hopefuls handled the sloppy track.

Some, like T.V. Smith, decided early was better, sending Offlee Wild out to gallop 1 1/2 miles immediately after the track opened at 5:15. Others, like Ron Ellis, decided late would be best. He brought Atswhatimtalkinbout onto the track just before the end of training hours to gallop a fairly spirited two miles.

Bobby Frankel opted for the less-would-be-more theory with Derby favorite Empire Maker and his stablemate Peace Rules.

After galloping a 1 1/2 miles with blinkers on and spending

10 minutes at the gate on Thursday morning, Empire Maker came out just before dawn Friday sans blinkers and simply jogged an uneventful 1 1/2 miles the wrong way around the track. Peace Rules followed a similar itinerary several minutes later, although it was obvious he was hankering to do more as he made his way clockwise around the one-mile oval. Peace Rules released all that pent-up energy upon leaving the track, bucking and kicking enough to convince exercise rider Antonio Graell to dismount just inside the gap. Once riderless, Peace Rules became even more fractious before he was finally taken in hand and led safely back to the barn by Frankel and Graell.

Three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert didn't let his three candidates do much more than stretch their legs. Senor Swinger was tossing his head about and was on his toes as he jogged a half-mile back around past the finish line, after which he reversed directions and galloped a mere half-mile before heading back to the barn. Indian Express and Kafwain came out simultaneously shortly after the renovation break and jogged a much more enthusiastic mile.

Ten Most Wanted made another very good appearance and did a bit more than most of the others, heading to the paddock shortly before the renovation break, then returning to the track to gallop a strong nine furlongs.