02/16/2004 1:00AM

Second of June will be missed

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NEW YORK - Notes from a busy weekend:

The anticipation that reigned Saturday night after Read the Footnotes and Second of June put on a tremendous show in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park turned to deep disappointment Sunday morning with the news that Second of June had to undergo surgery for a cannon bone fracture that will keep him away from the races at least until the end of the year.

For the first time in ages, it looked as if we were going to have an entertaining rivalry involving a couple of good 3-year-olds before the Triple Crown races actually begin. What a novel treat. Instead of two evenly matched Kentucky Derby prospects ducking a challenge and looking to take the low road, both Read the Footnotes and Second of June were scheduled to run back in the Florida Derby. And with the way they duked it out Saturday, the Florida Derby, in all probability, would have been another hard-fought, thrilling battle.

Presumably, Second of June sustained his fracture during the running of the Fountain of Youth. It is impossible to quantify how much such an injury costs in terms of performance because determination and the ability to overcome pain varies from horse to horse. But, Second of June lost the Fountain of Youth by only a neck. With no injury, would the outcome have been different?

Rick Violette Jr., the trainer of Read the Footnotes, is right to be concerned that maybe the Fountain of Youth was too much, too soon for his colt. That notion would have been ridiculous 30 or more years ago. But Thoroughbreds are more fragile now. Read the Footnotes was coming off a 2 1/2-month layoff, was thrust into a fierce battle, and was required to produce a Beyer Speed Figure of 113, which was eight points better than his previous career best. As a result of this demanding performance, there is a distinct possibility that the colt could be fried for a long time. We will find out in his next start, and if he shows no ill effects, more credit to him.

On the other side of the coin, Birdstone barely had to draw a deep breath when he won Saturday's opener at Gulfstream, a two-turn allowance race that was his first start since he won the Champagne Stakes at Belmont park in early October. In fact, one could almost ask if Birdstone got enough out of the race. The competition was weak and the pace was soft, and for Birdstone to score by three well-measured lengths, he had to run fast enough to earn only a Beyer Figure of 93. Birdstone is one to a million to improve on that number next time, but he will have to. To underscore the question of whether Birdstone got enough out of his return, the 20-point deficit between his Beyer Saturday and the one earned by Read the Footnotes equates to a difference of about 12 lengths.

There were several other special performances Saturday at Gulfstream, particularly Madcap Escapade's victory in the Old Hat Stakes and Value Plus's successful return in a seven-furlong allowance race. Madcap Escapade ran fast (108 Beyer) and won by a lot (almost 12 lengths), but the thing that I was really taken with was the way she turned a one-length lead into a three-length lead in an instant while cornering into the stretch. As for Value Plus, not only did he toe-rope his field, but he also sped the distance .81seconds faster than his contemporaries in the Grade 2 Hutcheson.

What were these riders thinking?

At a time when the racing world still mourns the death of jockey Mike Rowland, it was shocking to see such irresponsible and dangerous race-riding in Saturday's John B. Campbell Breeders' Cup Handicap at Laurel Park. Norberto Arroyo Jr., riding Rogue Agent, had no business coming over and slamming the door on Evening Attire, because Evening Attire did manage to get up into a narrow opening on the rail and had his position established. It was only by pure luck that a horrific spill was avoided, and certainly not because of any responsible riding on Arroyo's part, who was whipping right handed, no less. Then again, Arroyo is no stranger to this kind of stuff. Remember last year's Wood Memorial, when he racked up half the field coming out of the gate?

At the same time, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan had absolutely no business trying to go into a tiny opening on the rail with Evening Attire. It was an unnecessarily thoughtless and dangerous move with a horse who has been very good to him. Bridgmohan will be lucky if ever gets within 20 feet of Evening Attire again.