01/30/2004 1:00AM

Sir Oscar tests waters at site of Fountain


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Sir Oscar has been training regularly at Calder Race Course since completing his undefeated 2-year-old campaign with a victory in the Jack Price Juvenile Stakes on Nov. 15. On Friday morning, trainer Manny Azpurua took Sir Oscar, a Kentucky Derby hopeful, away from home for the first time to work a mile at Gulfstream Park.

Azpurua has targeted the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 14 for Sir Oscar's return. At 1 1/16 miles, the Fountain of Youth will be the first significant test for many of the Kentucky Derby hopefuls who are based in south Florida this winter and the last major prep for this meet's cornerstone event, the $1 million Florida Derby on March 13.

Working in blinkers and with jockey Julio Garcia aboard, Sir Oscar broke off just past the wire after having to alter course to avoid a pair of horses who were finishing their workouts. Sir Oscar went along at a steady clip once he settled into stride approaching the seven-eighths pole, ripping off splits of 12 seconds and change from start to finish. He completed his final quarter-mile in 25.37 and was officially credited with working seven-eighths in 1:28.60.

"I brought him over here to get used to the track and worked him a mile to make sure he was fit enough for his next start, since he hasn't run in a couple of months," said Azpurua. "Julio said he was looking around a little since it was a new place for him, but he worked great. He's never worked that fast when he was alone."

Friday's work was the fifth this month for Sir Oscar and his ninth since Dec. 1. His previous two works had been out of the gate at Calder.

"Working them out of the gate is the best way to get a horse sharp who hasn't raced in a while," said Azpurua. "And by bringing him to the gate, he gets some competition beside him, and that really gets him going."

Sir Oscar is owned by his breeder, Oscar Novo. He is a son of the Florida-based stallion Halo's Image, who is also the sire of Grade 1 winner Southern Image, winner of last week's $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita.

Sir Oscar won all six of his starts at 2, sweeping the Florida Stallion Stakes and completing the campaign by turning back in distance to defeat Wynn Dot Comma and Stolen Time in the seven-furlong Jack Price. After the Jack Price, Wynn Dot Comma captured the Grade 3 Spectacular Bid Stakes at this meet.

"When you've got a good 3-year-old at this time of year you're always thinking about the Kentucky Derby, but right now we're just taking things one race at a time," said Azpurua. "I'm not even sure who the other contenders are going to be in the Fountain of Youth. All I know is that once you start going up and up in class at this level, the races are always going to get tougher and tougher."

If Sir Oscar makes it to Churchill Downs, he won't be the first Kentucky Derby starter for Azpurua.

"I ran Set n' Go in the 1974 Derby, and he was up with the pace for a while but then got tired and finished 16th behind Cannonade," Azpurua said.

Strong field for Fountain

Among those likely to join Sir Oscar in the starting gate for the Fountain of Youth are Second of June and Silver Wagon, the first and second finishers in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes, Read the Footnotes, Frisky Spider, and Mustanfar.

Trainer Nick Zito's three Triple Crown hopefuls - Birdstone, Eurosilver, and The Cliff's Edge - are expected to skip the Fountain of Youth, as is Tapit, whose connections have targeted the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds the following day for his 3-year-old debut.

With Anticipation eyes return

Nine-year-old With Anticipation was turning heads when he galloped over the track Thursday morning, his second day over the track since trainer Jonathan Sheppard brought him in from the farm earlier this week.

A five-time Grade 1 winner, With Anticipation started only three times last year and has not raced since finishing off the board in the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap on July 5.

"He developed a little problem below the right front ankle following his last work for the Sword Dancer last summer at Saratoga," Sheppard said. "We had to stop galloping him but never stopped jogging him - he didn't miss a day - and kept re-scanning it every 30 days until we got the go-ahead to begin galloping him again around Thanksgiving. He really didn't lose that much conditioning because of all the jogging he'd done. I took him down to the farm in South Carolina after New Year's, and he had four or five works before coming in here this week."

Sheppard said he is targeting the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders Cup Handicap here Feb. 22 for With Anticipation's return to stakes competition, but would like to get an allowance race under his belt first.

"On face value the three races he ran last year weren't very good, but he had some excuses, and I really didn't see anything wrong with them," said Sheppard. "He's 9 now, and I'm not sure if he's up to Grade 1 stakes company any more, but if not, there's nothing wrong with Grade 2's and 3's. He'll tell us if he gets to the point where he doesn't want to race any more. For the time being, he seems to be enjoying it, and all of us at the barn are really enjoying having him around again."