03/14/2003 12:00AM

Sky Mesa officially out of Derby


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer John Ward finally conceded Friday that Sky Mesa would not run in the Kentucky Derby, but said "we might be able to make the Belmont" Stakes on June 7 if everything were to break right.

Ward, unhappy with the way Sky Mesa was responding to treatment for a bruised right front foot, shipped Sky Mesa on Tuesday to the Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic in Lexington, Ky., where he was examined by Dr. Larry Bramlage. All Bramlage did was confirm the bruise.

"He wasn't responding like I thought he should for a bruise, so to be on the safe side there was a plane heading to Lexington and we got him up there to Larry, who did a complete job on him and diagnosed that he had a bruise on the inside quarter of his right front foot," Ward said. "Everything else checked out 100 percent."

Ward spoke from Lexington early Friday afternoon as he was about to put Sky Mesa on a van headed back to south Florida. Sky Mesa is stabled at Palm Beach Downs, a training center located about 50 miles north of Gulfstream Park. Ward said Sky Mesa would remain at Palm Beach for a few more weeks before going to Keeneland.

Sky Mesa has been out of training since Feb. 23. A few days after a sharp workout at Gulfstream Park Feb. 18, Sky Mesa sustained his bruise while "over-galloping" at Palm Beach. Ward said he has no timetable for Sky Mesa's return to training.

"It's one of those things that's day by day - when everything gets right," Ward said. "I wouldn't imagine it'll be too long. We re-diagnosed what the problems is with 100 percent surety. It gives us confidence to proceed, and it also stops the rumor mill from running."

Sky Mesa, owned by John Oxley, went 3 for 3 as a 2-year-old, including victories in the Grade 1 Hopeful and Grade 2 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, his last start on Oct. 5.

Santos, Shuman in tiff

Mark Shuman and Jose Santos have formed the winningest trainer-jockey combination at the Gulfstream meeting. But on Friday, their relationship hit a sour note when Santos was beaten three-quarters of a length aboard the Shuman-trained Dancing Dee, the 2-5 favorite in the third race.

Afterward, Santos and Shuman exchanged words. Shortly thereafter it was announced that Santos was replaced aboard two Shuman-trained horses later on the card.

Santos, who had ridden 29 winners from 97 Shuman mounts at this meet, had made an easy lead aboard Dancing Dee and set fractions of 24.46 seconds, 49.45, and 1:14.00. But Dancing Dee was run down inside the 50-yard marker by Sound Wave, who gave jockey Mark Guidry his third consecutive winner on the card.

"He waited till she was right next to him" to start riding, Shuman said, before abruptly ending an interview. Shuman is the leading trainer at the meet with 62 winners, a Gulfstream record.

Santos said the decision to not ride Shuman's other two horses was mutual.

"I told him I can't please him so I don't want to ride for him," Santos said. "He told me to go to the lead and get an easy lead and that's what I did. These are not Grade 1 horses. I tried to get away from them at the quarter pole but she was not there.

"He told me I went too slow. The other day he told me I went too fast. I have eight to 10 years left to ride and I want to win as many as races as I can. I know he wants to win, but he's a young guy. He has to learn how to lose."

A healthy Belterra ready to get going

One of the top 2-year-old fillies of 2001, Belterra was sidetracked by health problems in 2002.

Her connections hope for a return to form in 2003, but aren't necessarily looking for instant success Sunday when Belterra returns in the $100,000 Hurricane Bertie Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Belterra went undefeated at 2, including a victory over Take Charge Lady in the Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs. At 3, she finished third in the Bonnie Miss and third in the Ashland, after which she underwent throat surgery to repair an entrapped epiglottis. Belterra appeared to be back on track when she won a money allowance race on June 6 at Churchill Downs.

She then shipped to New York and was entered in the Grade 1 Mother Goose in late June, but came down with a temperature of 103 the day before the race and was scratched. Trainer Carl Nafzger and owner Robert Manfuso decided to stop on her and she was turned out at Manfuso's Maryland farm.

Belterra returned to Nafzger's barn in November and she has been working steadily at Gulfstream this winter. Nafzger had hoped to get an allowance race at a distance of ground for Belterra, but one did not fill. Instead, Belterra will have to run against superior sprinters such as Harmony Lodge and Gold Mover.

"We allowed her to go 6 1/2 furlongs to get a race in her and get a good race in her," Nafzger said. "She'll drop back and then punch down the lane. I think she's a better distance horse but we just got to get started."

Nafzger said he hopes to use this race as a stepping-stone to the Doubledogdare at Keeneland April 16.

Offlee Wild gets back to work

Offlee Wild, the Holy Bull Stakes winner, worked four furlongs in 49 seconds Friday morning at Gulfstream, his first breeze since finishing fourth in the Fountain of Youth. Offlee Wild had missed almost two weeks of training due to a bacterial infection.

The breeze did not go as trainer T.V. Smith had planned as Offlee Wild, under jockey Mark Guidry, picked up unwanted company to his inside as he was breaking off from the half-mile pole.

"We didn't want company, but we caught company," Smith said. "But he did it well within himself. They went together and Mark sat still on our horse."

Smith, who timed his horse in 50 seconds, said he is pointing Offlee Wild to the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 12. Smith said he planned two more works at Gulfstream for Offlee Wild prior to shipping to Keeneland.

"If it looks like he's healthy enough to make the Blue Grass Stakes we'll get him up there 10 or 12 days ahead of the race,'' Smith said. "We'll do it, if he'll do it."

Migration soon to begin

Several jockeys are getting ready to leave south Florida in the next two weeks.

Jockeys John Velazquez and Jorge Chavez were to have ridden their last days here on Saturday, Florida Derby Day, though both may come back for selected stakes races. Chavez was to ride in New York on Sunday, then take a few days off before returning to New York next weekend.

Velazquez, who was to ride at Tampa Bay on Sunday, will start riding in New York on Wednesday.

Jerry Bailey will most likely ride at Gulfstream next weekend before heading for Dubai to ride Medaglia d'Oro in the World Cup. He will then spend most of the spring commuting between Florida, Kentucky, California, and New York on weekends.

Santos will ride here through March 30 before heading to Keeneland for opening weekend, April 4-6. He will then return to New York.

Edgar Prado is expected to return to New York beginning Wednesday, then will be in California next weekend to accept the George Woolf Award, before returning to New York.

Eibar Coa, who is currently the leading rider at the meet, is scheduled to move his tack to New York in the first week of April.