04/24/2004 12:00AM

Sir Shackleton takes Derby Trial

With Rafael Bejarano aboard, Sir Shackleton rolls to a 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Derby Trial on opening day at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nick Zito is fervently hoping that what occurred in the will soon prove to be an omen. Zito was in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs after sending out Sir Shackleton to a 1 3/4-length triumph in the 80th running of the $110,800 Trial on Saturday, one week before Zito will run The Cliff's Edge and Birdstone in the 130th Kentucky Derby.

Zito, in his normally excitable state following a win of significance, said he "always wanted to win" the Grade 3 Derby Trial. But he was unable to resist looking ahead to the Derby.

"I've got this one on the resume now," he said. "As far as the Derby, sure, you're always hoping something like this is an omen."

Sir Shackleton, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, emerged from a well-bunched pack before turning back Courageous Act in a race dramatically altered by the early scratch of Rock Hard Ten, who surely would have been a heavy favorite in the one-mile Trial, the opening-day feature of the 53-day Churchill spring meet. Sir Shackleton took heavy play in the final wagering cycle to become a slight 6-5 favorite over Bwana Charlie in the field of five 3-year-olds.

Sir Shackleton, bred and owned by Tracy Farmer, was coming off an April 9 allowance victory at Keeneland. Always prominent down the backstretch when racing between rivals, he put away Quick Action, then Bwana Charlie, then had plenty left to turn back Courageous Act.

"I thought he was getting in a speed duel," said Zito. "But he fought back and had more guts. The kid [Bejarano] did a good job, too."

Bwana Charlie, who finished another 8 1/2 lengths behind Courageous Act, had a three-race win streak snapped. Honolua Storm and Quick Action ended the order of finish.

The win mutuel on Sir Shackleton was $4.40, and his final time over a fast track was 1:37.61. Ontrack attendance was 11,412.

Blinkers help A. P. Adventure

When A. P. Adventure finally lost a race, Wally Dollase suspected there may have been a good reason. This is what he came up with: "She's too smart."

After consulting with jockey Alex Solis, Dollase decided soon after A. P. Adventure finished third under Solis in the March 13 Santa Anita Oaks that she needed blinkers. So in every major training move since that last race, including a five-furlong drill Saturday at Churchill, A. P. Adventure has worn full-cup blinkers.

"I've had two extremely smart fillies in my career, Jewel Princess and Windsharp, and they figured everything out right away," said Dollase. "This filly is the same way. She's so smart, she only does what she has to do. I think the blinkers are making her focus much more."

A. P. Adventure, an A.P. Indy filly owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, is one of 11 3-year-old fillies poised to run Friday in the 130th running of the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. The other probables are Ashado, Class Above, Halfbridled, Hollywood Story, House of Fortune, Island Sand, Last Song, Madcap Escapade, Silent Sighs, and Victory U. S. A.

A. P. Adventure began her career with three straight wins, capped by the Grade 1 Las Virgenes, before finishing third in the Santa Anita Oaks, beaten three lengths, behind Silent Sighs and Halfbridled. Dollase said Solis told him afterward that A.P. Adventure "has all the talent in the world, but just needs to keep her mind on her business."

In her Saturday work, A. P. Adventure, with exercise rider Raul Vizcarrondo up, was caught in 1:00.80 over a good surface. Solis, having chosen Halfbridled for the 1 1/8-mile Oaks, will be replaced by Mike Smith, who rode A. P. Adventure in her career debut in October.

Ashado gives more in latest work

Ashado encountered some traffic Saturday morning during her final workout for the Kentucky Oaks, but her connections were nonetheless pleased with the outcome of the drill.

Ashado worked five furlongs in 58.64 seconds, according to Daily Racing Form, over a track labeled good. Under exercise rider Michelle Nihei, Ashado worked inside of a stablemate, the stakes-winning Bohemian Lady. Entering the stretch, the duo came up behind another horse, who had started a work well in front of them. Nihei, sensing Ashado was going too fast, kept a stern hold of her through the lane so as to not pass the horse ahead of her. She was successful in doing that and finished a neck in front of Bohemian Lady.

"The last thing we wanted to do was get by the horse in front of us and go in 57," Nihei said. "Probably the key indicator for us is that her gallop out was tremendous. Off of her 2-year-old year and early in her 3-year-old year, she'd never been one that likes to do a lot in the mornings. She liked to take care of herself and take it easy. That's not what she's doing right now. She's just really focused; she's a lot of horse."

Ashado, who won the Fair Grounds Oaks earlier this year, has trained exceptionally well since finishing second behind Madcap Escapade in the Grade 1 Ashland on April 4 at Keeneland, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.

"Her two works after the Ashland have been the two fastest works she's ever had," Pletcher said. "She's such a big, strong filly. She was so lazy and carried so much condition I was always wondering if I was getting enough done with her. Now, she's giving it to us without us asking for it."

Martinez will root for 'Smarty'

Jockey Willie Martinez was aboard Smarty Jones when he worked five furlongs here Saturday morning, just as he's been every time since trainer John Servis shipped Smarty Jones, the undefeated 3-year-old, to Oaklawn Park in mid-January. But Martinez will be a spectator when Smarty Jones runs in the Kentucky Derby, deferring once again to regular rider Stewart Elliott.

"Naturally I'd love to be riding him in the Derby, but I knew going in that Stew was his regular jockey," said Martinez. "John [Servis] and I have been good friends for a long time, and it's great just to be part of the team. He's a very special horse, and I think I've been able to teach him to do some things he couldn't do before I began to work him. Obviously we're all doing something right with this horse, and I'll be pulling for all of them when he runs in the Derby."

Servis said he and Martinez go back a long way, and he is grateful to have had him on board this year.

"Willie rode for me years ago, when he had the bug," said Servis. "And he's certainly become a major part of this team. I know it's difficult being in the background when Smarty Jones runs, but he's been very professional about the whole situation, and if something were to happen to Stew he would certainly be my choice to ride this horse, in the Derby or any other race. He might not be a top-name rider, but he's a very good one, has always done well at Churchill Downs, and he probably knows Smarty Jones as well as anybody. Even as well as Stewart knows him."

Lady Tak back in winner's circle

Lady Tak, winless in three starts since taking the Grade 1 Test last July at Saratoga, went gate to wire on Saturday to take a $63,000 classified allowance race by two lengths over stablemate Souris. Under Shane Sellers, Lady Tak ($3.60) covered six furlongs in 1:09.89.

"It's huge to me to have her back winning," said trainer Steve Asmussen. "Obviously, she's still got talent. It was her confidence that we had lost, and hopefully that was a step in the right direction."

After winning the Test, Lady Tak finished second in the Grade 1 Gazelle before finishing last in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Her 4-year-old debut was just as bad, as she faded to last in the Madison Stakes after dueling for the lead.

Asmussen said Lady Tak "gave up" in the Distaff, possibly feeling the effects of a long 3-year-old campaign. In the Madison, Asmussen said Lady Tak was "underprepared, a bad training job last time. Honestly, she was just not fit for it."

Asmussen said he did not have a race picked out for Lady Tak's next start, but she is likely to ship to Belmont Park for the summer. Asmussen's main goal is the Grade 1 Ballerina Handicap at Saratoga on Aug 29.

Sightseek gets 122 pounds for Louisville BC

Sightseek, the multiple Grade 1-winning mare, was assigned 122 pounds for the Grade 2, $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap, to be run Friday. She was assigned three pounds less than Azeri, who is not expected to run.

Sightseek, who won the Grade 2 Rampart Handicap in her last start, heads a field that is expected to include Lead Story (116 pounds), Pocus Hocus (114), Yell (114), and La Reason (111).

Azeri was assigned 125 pounds for the Grade 1, $250,000 Humana Distaff, to be run Saturday at seven furlongs. She is expected to run against Randaroo (121), Bear Fan (116), Mayo on the Side (114), Halory Leigh (110), and Keiai Sakura (110). Mayo on the Side was supplemented at a cost of $12,500. Harmony Lodge (119) is possible.

Churchill racing secretary Doug Bredar picked Azeri up two pounds off her win in the Apple Blossom, and Sightseek one pound off her victory in the Rampart.

"Azeri's a champion; she was generously weighted in the Apple Blossom at 123, and she won convincingly in arguably the most difficult filly and mare dirt race that's been run," Bredar said. "Sightseek beat a weak bunch in a Grade 2, so we picked her up one pound."

- additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch