03/11/2002 1:00AM

Saarland primed for 3yo debut in Gotham


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Saarland, unraced since winning the Remsen Stakes last November, arrived at his Belmont Park barn Monday afternoon to continue preparations for his 3-year-old debut in Sunday's $200,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

After working a sharp five furlongs in 1:00.20 Saturday at Gulfstream Park, boarded a van along with a few other Shug McGaughey-trained horses on Sunday morning. He arrived at Belmont at 12:30 p.m. Monday.

"He got in here just fine,'' said Buzz Tenney, assistant to McGaughey. "I assume it was a pretty uneventful trip.''

Saarland, a son of Unbridled, will likely be the favorite in the one-mile, Grade 3 Gotham, which is likely to draw a seven-horse field. Other confirmed starters include Mayakovsky, Saratoga Blues, and Parade of Music. Questionable starters include Medaglia d'Oro, My Man Ryan, and Tank's Expectation.

After winning the Remsen, Saarland shipped to Gulfstream for the winter where he figured to kick off his 3-year-old campaign in either the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth or an allowance race. McGaughey opted against the Fountain of Youth because he didn't think Saarland cared for Gulfstream's main track, which had been extremely deep early in the meet. McGaughey opted for an allowance race, but it failed to fill on three occasions.

At that point, McGaughey mapped out a two-race Kentucky Derby prep campaign that consists of the Gotham and then the $750,000 Wood Memorial on April 13. John Velazquez is scheduled to ride Saarland on Sunday.

At Hollywood Park, on Monday, Medaglia d'Oro worked six furlongs in 1:12.80, equaling the second fastest of 12 moves at the distance. Trainer Bobby Frankel has yet to finalize plans for Medaglia d'Oro, who is coming off a maiden win at Oaklawn Park in his most recent start.

Sherm re-bucks shins, out until summer

Throughout the winter, Gary Contessa was the darling of the Aqueduct faithful as he accrued 38 victories to lead all trainers during the inner track meet. Sunday, one day after he saddled three winners, Contessa was the target of the horseplayers' vented frustrations after 1-10 shot Sherm checked in fourth in a preliminary New York-bred allowance event.

As it turned out, Sherm had a legitimate excuse for his dismal showing. Contessa reported that Sherm bucked his left shin and will be out until mid-to-late summer. Contessa also said that Sherm stepped on himself, known as grabbing a quarter, on his right front foot. But it was the sore shin that caused Sherm to bear out so badly during the race.

"He has got a red-hot, sore left shin,'' Contessa said Monday. "I thought it might have been a fracture, but we took X-rays and the X-rays were negative. It's exactly what you see from a bucked shin as a 2-year-old.''

According to Contessa, Sherm bucked shins as a 2-year-old, which is why he didn't debut until January, when he won his maiden by 15 1/2 lengths. Contessa said "it's uncommon, but it's not all that unusual'' for a horse to buck shins more than once.

When a horse bucks shins, the shins are pinfired and the horse is given time off to recover. Contessa said rather than pinfire them a second time, he will recommend that the horse's shin simply be scraped. It's a surgical procedure done with the horse standing up.

Contessa said the horse is immediately put back into light training to rebuild the calcium and strengthen the shin. The horse would jog for six weeks and then resume normal training for another six weeks before he would be able to run. Contessa hopes Sherm could get back in time for part of the Big Apple Triple, a series of races for New York-bred 3-years-olds that includes the Mike Lee Handicap on June 29, the New York Derby on July 27, and the Albany Handicap on Aug. 21.

Not only was Sherm pounded to 1-10 favoritism in the win pool, but he was carrying the hopes of a few bridgejumpers in the show pool as well. Of the $202,002 wagered to show in the race, $183,947 was bet on Sherm. His loss produced some whopping show payoffs of $18.60, $20.20, and $38.80. Beyond Chance won the race.

Next Move next stop for Zonk

Zonk rebounded from her defeat and subsequent disqualification in last month's Rare Treat Handicap to win a classified allowance race Sunday by a half-length over a stubborn With Ability. Trainer John Servis said Zonk would make her next start in the Grade 3, $100,000 Next Move Handicap on March 29.

Zonk, who won the Affectionately in January, finished second in the Rare Treat, but was disqualified for interference and placed fourth. Servis said he blamed himself for the Rare Treat, noting that he had trained Zonk differently in hopes she could get nine furlongs.

"I put a few two-minute licks into her as opposed to working her,'' Servis said. "She wasn't as sharp as she had been in the past.''

- Despite going winless in 14 mounts over the weekend, jockey Lorenzo Lezcano easily won the inner-track riding title with 70 victories, eight more than Javier Castellano. Lezcano becomes the first apprentice to win a New York riding title since Ramon Perez won the 1994 Aqueduct fall meet.