02/11/2006 1:00AM

Shug hunting for the perfect spot


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Shug McGaughey didn't get the rain he was hoping for Saturday and as a result will have to go to plan B with Happy Hunting - although at the moment he's not exactly certain what plan B is.

McGaughey entered Happy Hunting for dirt only in Saturday's Grade 3 Appleton Handicap, hoping the race might come off the grass. When it did not, he scratched Happy Hunting to await another day.

Happy Hunting won three consecutive allowance races to close his 2005 campaign, shipped to Gulfstream Park with McGaughey in December, then returned to New York to win the Grade 3 Aqueduct Handicap on Jan. 21.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do with him next," said McGaughey. "The Gulfstream Park Handicap at 1 3/16 miles is too far. I might do the same thing with the Canadian Handicap that I did today, enter him for dirt only and hope the race comes off the grass. I've also got him nominated to the General George in Maryland and could take him there if it looks like the race is coming up easy. I'll just wait and see what happens."

McGaughey said the Canadian Turf on March 11 is the most likely spot for Grade 1 winner Good Reward's return. Good Reward won the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap last season but has not started since finishing sixth over a sloppy track in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup on Sept. 24.

McGaughey also noted that Eclipse Award winner Smuggler is just about ready to start working seriously and said she remains on schedule to launch her 4-year-old campaign here before returning to New York early this spring.

"I did a little something with her this morning," said McGaughey. "It wasn't enough to make the work tab, but she's getting close to her first work. She's been galloping right along since we got down here."

One horse McGaughey will have to wait on is Philanthropist, who suffered a minor injury during his seventh-place finish as the 9-5 favorite in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap on Jan. 7.

"He had an ankle jump up on me after his last race," said McGaughey. "I stopped on him for 30 days, and he's back walking under tack now."

Beacon Shine may work up to Swale

Trainer Nick Zito had been hoping to use a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race last Thursday as a prep for Beacon Shine for the Grade 2 Swale Stakes on March 4. But that plan went somewhat awry after Beacon Shine stumbled and lost jockey Javier Castellano leaving the gate. The riderless Beacon Shine wound up running head and head with the winner, Tompest, for much of the race.

"I could try to bring him back in another allowance race," Zito said Saturday, "but the way things turned out it was like he ran a race anyway, so I'll probably just wind up training him into the Swale."

Beacon Shine, who is owned by George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable, won two of three starts at 2, including the Grade 3 Flash Stakes.

Noonmark impresses in allowance

Trainer Steve Asmussen, whose 3-year-old arsenal already includes Private Vow and Doctor Decherd, added another name to that list following Noonmark's impressive first-level allowance win Saturday. A son of Unbridled's Song, Noonmark beat a field that included Bernie White Shoes and Praying for Cash, withstanding an early pace duel and winning by two lengths while covering six furlongs in 1:09.40. The performance could earn Noonmark a spot in the seven-furlong Swale.

R Loyal Man works for Sam Davis

R Loyal Man worked six furlongs in 1:13.80 at Calder on Saturday and is on track for Saturday's $75,000 Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa. R Loyal Man has won his last three starts, including both the Inaugural and Pasco at Tampa, and will be among the favorites in a strong Sam Davis field that is expected to include Bluegrass Cat and Hesanoldsalt.