08/05/2003 11:00PM

Rain key factor for Sword Dancer

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainers Graham Motion and Jonathan Sheppard are stabled on the opposite sides of Saratoga's mammoth, two-track backside. They are equally separated on their hopes for the weather leading up to Saturday's Grade 1 $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga.

"I'm probably the only person in Saratoga who hopes it keeps raining," said Motion, trainer of the soft-course-loving Dr. Brendler.

After putting two-time defending Sword Dancer winner With Anticipation through an unorthodox workout Wednesday, Sheppard said, "`Now we got to hope we don't get too much more rain."

Unfortunately for Sheppard, and luckily for Motion, the heavy showers came again Wednesday afternoon and more were in the forecast through the weekend. It rained hard enough Wednesday to force racing officials to move all three scheduled turf races to the sloppy main track.

Dr. Brendler won the Grade 2 Citgo Dixie Handicap on Preakness Day over a soft Pimlico turf course. He finished third to Denon in the Manhattan Handicap run over a bog at Belmont on June 7, then was a strong second to Ballingarry in the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup Handicap at Arlington on July 5.

Motion believes that if the Manhattan were run at 1 1/2 miles, then Dr. Brendler might have won. He also said Dr. Brendler had to wait for room while Ballingarry had a smooth trip in the Stars and Stripes.

"We had to wait a minute coming off the turf, and Ballingarry got the jump on us," Motion said. "Maybe things would have been different if Ballingarry didn't get the jump on us."

As of Wednesday, Motion was unsure who would ride Dr. Brendler. His two top choices, Edgar Prado and Jose Santos, were scheduled to ride in the West Virginia Derby the same day at Mountaineer Race Track.

Meanwhile, across the street at the Oklahoma training track, Sheppard needed to get a work into With Anticipation but had few options. The turf course was closed, and the main track was too wet to take a chance. Sheppard received permission to work around the steeplechase gallops - inside the Oklahoma turf course - and With Anticipation went a half-mile in company with Erda, a second-level allowance horse.

With Anticipation, under exercise rider Kate Fitzpatrick, started several lengths behind Erda and eventually caught his stablemate where the work ended, at approximately the half-mile pole. Clockers officially credited With Anticipation with a half-mile in 51.60 seconds.

"I was delighted. Both horses seemed happy. I thought the riders did a good job - as you say desperate times call for desperate measures," Sheppard said. "I think it worked out satisfactorily."

A large field is expected for the Sword Dancer, which is run at 1 1/2 miles. Denon, who finished second to With Anticipation in this race last year, will be the 122-pound highweight. Also expected are Ballingarry (119), Balto Star (118), With Anticipation (118), Dr. Brendler (116), Kim Loves Bucky (115), Puerto Banus (115), Quest Star (115), Whitmore's Conn (115), Lunar Sovereign (114), and Macaw (114). Mariensky (110) and Merdiana (109), both fillies, are also expected to enter.

Tagg: I want Funny Cide in Travers

Funny Cide's temperature, which had elevated to 102 degrees on Monday, was back to normal on Wednesday, as trainer Barclay Tagg said the gelding's health continues to improve.

Funny Cide, who finished a well-beaten third in Sunday's Haskell Invitational, remained on medication Wednesday and walked his shed row for 30 minutes. Under normal circumstances, Funny Cide would have returned to the track on Thursday morning, but Tagg said he would not take him back until Friday at the earliest. He said the key to Funny Cide's ability to make the Aug. 23 Travers Stakes is how he reacts when he is taken off medication.

"I want to get him off the antibiotics, see if it spikes a temperature again," Tagg said. "As long as everything is A-okay, I want to get him back to the track as fast as I can. If he's still acting this good [Thursday], I might stop the antibiotics."

Tagg said he has no deadline as to when he has to get Funny Cide back in training in order to make the Travers, where he would face Empire Maker, Strong Hope, Sky Mesa, Ten Most Wanted, and Eye of the Tiger.

"We want to run him in the Travers if we can," Tagg said. "I don't want to give him too much time off or too much time on medication, but then I don't want him to get real sick and miss the whole fall either. You got to guess a little bit, kind of know your horse and hope you're doing the right thing."

Serpe off to hot start

Despite having one of his horses disqualified on Wednesday, trainer Phil Serpe is off to a superb start at this meet with four winners from 11 starters.

Serpe said he came to Saratoga a bit apprehensive because a virus swept through his barn at the Belmont meet, affecting 13 of his horses. "I was worried they wouldn't be ready to run really big up here," he said.

Serpe said all four of his winners - Congress Park, Quilled Bid, Poppy's Image, and Golden Commander - were logical winners. Serpe said he was gratified that two of his winners have come for long-time owner John Dee, who has been ill for a while.

Serpe said he hopes to run several more horses at this meet, including Formal Attire, a 3-year-old who ran in the Florida Derby. Formal Attire underwent a myectomy following the race and has been training steadily since he was put back in training.

Serpe also has several 2-year-olds he is eager to run, including colts by Grand Slam and Dixieland Band. Serpe said his stock has improved, specifically the result of owner Carl Lizza's presence at horse sales and purchases of better-bred horses for his Flying Zee Stables.

"One of the key elements in our barn - and it'll show more into the fall and winter - is the good young stock in the barn," Serpe said. "Carl Lizza wants to get back in the thick of it."

Shake You Down gets 123 for Vanderbilt

Shake You Down, who has won three consecutive stakes and five straight races over all, was assigned 123 pounds for Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Vanderbilt Handicap. He is expected to spot seven rivals 5 to 10 pounds in the six-furlong race.

Trainer Scott Lake was planning to work Shake You Down on Tuesday, but canceled the workout due to an uneven track. Shake You Down walked the shed row on Wednesday. Lake hopes to blow him out a quarter-mile on Friday.

Shake You Down is expected to face Mountain General, State City, Highway Prospector Najran, Private Horde, Mike's Classic, and Voodoo in the Vanderbilt.

On Wednesday, Mike's Classic worked seven furlongs in 1:30 over the Oklahoma training track.

Three more Pletcher winners

Trainer Todd Pletcher continued his assault on the Saratoga meet record for wins, making three more trips to the winner's circle on Wednesday - giving him 18 wins from 53 starters. The meet record for wins is 24 set by Syl Veitch in 1954.

Pletcher won the third race with Bishop Court Hill ($5), fourth with Feather Boa ($6.30), and sixth with Krasnaya ($3.90), who actually finished second but was put up by the stewards via disqualification.

"When things are going your way, they continue to go your way," Pletcher said of the disqualification. "You don't know whether she would have won or not if that hadn't happened."