05/02/2003 12:00AM

Sir Cherokee to miss Triple Crown


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Sir Cherokee, the longshot winner of the Arkansas Derby, was scratched from Saturday's Kentucky Derby on Friday morning with a small fracture in his right hind ankle. The injury will keep him out of the entire Triple Crown series.

An emotional trainer Michael Tomlinson announced the scratch during a morning press conference in the Churchill Downs backstretch recreation center.

"This is a very common injury," said Tomlinson, who trains Sir Cherokee for Domino Stud. "It's not career-threatening, but the timing of it is horrendous, as you all know."

Sir Cherokee is stabled at the Churchill Downs Trackside Louisville Training Center, about five miles from Churchill Downs. On Tuesday, he was vanned over to work at Churchill, where he went five furlongs in 1:00.60. Following a day off Wednesday, Sir Cherokee galloped at Trackside on Thursday. Afterward, Tomlinson noticed "he wasn't himself" and X-rays revealed the fracture.

"He wasn't noticeably lame, but he wasn't 100 percent," Tomlinson said. "He has a small fracture of the P1 bone in his right hind ankle."

Tomlinson said the initial diagnosis is that Sir Cherokee could resume training in 90 to 120 days.

"He'll miss the classic series, but you'll see us back this fall," Tomlinson said.

Sir Cherokee would have been the first Derby starter for Tomlinson, his owners, and jockey Terry Thompson. Tomlinson said he was holding up well until he notified Thompson with the news.

"It's tough to get your foot in the door, then get squeezed out," Tomlinson said. "This is not a game for guys in short pants."

The scratch reduced the field for Saturday's 129th Kentucky Derby to 16 starters. Sir Cherokee was to have broken from post position 3 with Brancusi and Supah Blitz to his inside. With the scratch, Brancusi and Supah Blitz were moved out one spot, leaving the inside position vacant. The same decision was made last year when Buddha scratched the day before the Derby.

Take Charge Lady also hurt

Take Charge Lady, who would have been the odds-on favorite in Friday's $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup, was withdrawn because of a bruised left front foot, trainer Ken McPeek said.

McPeek said Take Charge Lady walked off Churchill's main track "a little tender" on Thursday morning. McPeek said Take Charge Lady was "very lame" on Friday morning.

McPeek said he hoped Take Charge Lady could recover in time to run in either the $200,000 Shuvee at Belmont Park on May 17 or the $200,000 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 24. If she runs in the Milady, Take Charge Lady would again meet the defending Horse of the Year, Azeri, who ran down Take Charge Lady by a head in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn.

McPeek also scratched stakes winner White Cat from the Crown Royal American Turf because of a ligament injury that could threaten his career.

On April 26, the McPeek-trained Grade 3 stakes winner Midnight Cry suffered a fatal breakdown while training for the Kentucky Oaks.

Asked if he felt the hard Churchill track contributed to these injuries, McPeek said, "They came up here without any troubles from Gulfstream, which is supposed to be the worst racetrack in the world. It isn't."

Sarava's return delayed by abscess

Sarava, the 2002 Belmont Stakes winner, will have his 4-year-old debut postponed because of an abscess in his foot, trainer Bob Baffert said on Friday.

Sarava was on the also-eligible list for an allowance race on Thursday at Churchill, but was scratched. Baffert said a bruise has developed into an abscess.

"It will probably be a week" before Sarava resumes training, Baffert said. "We'll miss some time with him."

Sarava has yet to start for Baffert. He was sent to California over the winter, but did not start at the Santa Anita meeting. Sarava was shipped to Churchill Downs with several of Baffert's top runners in advance of the Kentucky Derby.

Owned by New Phoenix Stable, Sarava has won 3 of 9 starts and $696,851. Aside from the Belmont Stakes, his only other stakes win came in the minor Sir Barton Stakes on the undercard of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.

Sky Mesa progressing

Had things gone according to plan, Sky Mesa would have been among the favorites in Saturday's Kentucky Derby. Instead, a foot injury suffered by the colt this winter while training at Palm Beach Downs forced trainer John Ward Jr. to take the undefeated colt off the Triple Crown trail.

Sky Mesa returned to serious training just before Ward and his wife, Donna, left Florida and shipped their stable back to Kentucky in mid-April. He has kept a steady work schedule ever since, and Ward is looking forward to getting Sky Mesa back in action before too long.

"We've taken our time with him, and he's been training right along," Ward said. "We haven't really set him down for a real serious work but he has been working extremely well. We're sending eight horses to Belmont right after the Preakness, and he'll be among that group.

"We'll put the finishing touches on him in New York and then look for a spot to start him back. There should be plenty of options either at Belmont or Monmouth Park."

Ward is currently looking at the Haskell and Travers as his main goals during the summer.

"We're going to have a fresh horse for the second half of the season, and from the looks of things we could be facing a lot of tired and pretty beat-up 3-year-olds by the time we're ready to get back to action this summer," said Ward.

Sky Mesa won all three of his starts as a 2-year-old, including Saratoga's Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. An ankle injury suffered 48 hours before the Breeders' Cup forced Ward to scratch Sky Mesa out of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen and Mike Welsch