03/26/2003 12:00AM

Sky Mesa resumes training

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Sky Mesa, forced out of the Kentucky Derby picture due to a bruised heel, is back galloping on a regular basis at Palm Beach Downs, trainer John Ward said Wednesday.

"He's been galloping for about 10 days and seems to be doing well," said Ward. "In fact he's really gone exceptionally well the last few days and I'm hoping to be able to get a work into him before we leave here for Kentucky next week."

Sky Mesa, the winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful last summer at Saratoga and undefeated in three starts, injured his heel when he took a bad step during a morning gallop at Palm Beach Downs last month.

"Right now all we're thinking about with him is climbing back up the ladder to where we were before having to stop on him," said Ward. "It's still much too early to be talking about where or when he might make his first start back."

Ward still has one more big bullet to fire here before shipping out to Kentucky. He sends out Hero's Tribute, who finished fourth in the Hal's Hope and second to Harlan's Holiday in the Donn Handicap, in Saturday's $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap.

"Obviously he just had a bad trip in the Hal's Hope and last time he got beat by a very good horse in the Donn Handicap," Ward said. "He's progressing with every start and I don't see the mile and one-quarter distance as being any problem for him."

Ward also said he is aiming Perfect Story, a two-time allowance winner earlier in the meet, for the about seven-furlong Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland on April 10.

"If she were to run well there we'd still consider the Kentucky Oaks," said Ward. "Although now that New York has hung up all that money for the triple tiara you can slow your game down some with a 3-year-old filly. You don't have to lay it all on the line for the Oaks."

Funny Cide preps for Wood

Funny Cide, who earned himself a trip to the Wood Memorial with his third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, worked five furlongs in 1:01 at the Palm Meadows training center on Wednesday.

"He's going to the Wood and that will answer all the questions," said trainer Barclay Tagg. "We'll see if he can get a mile and one-eighth and if he belongs on the Derby trail."

Tagg said Funny Cide would likely work once more in south Florida before shipping north April 7 or 8.

Nacheezmo, trainer H. James Bond's undefeated 3-year-old prospect, posted the bullet five furlong work of 1:00. 60 on Wednesday's tab at Palm Meadows.

Nacheezmo may make his next start in the $250,000 Aventura Stakes here on April 5, where his competition could include Christine's Outlaw.

Trainer George Weaver said he will work Christine's Outlaw at Palm Meadows on Sunday morning and then make a decision on whether to run his colt in the 1 1/16-mile Aventura.

Christine's Outlaw was a 10-length winner of his career debut here on Jan. 11, then bounced back from a sixth-place effort to post a 2 3/4-length first-level allowance victory at 1 1/8 miles on March 15.

Kimmel assistant goes on his own

Vinnie DePalo, who has worked as an assistant to trainer John Kimmel since 1988, will take out his own trainer's license when he returns to the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland in mid-April.

For DePalo, 42, this will be the second time he has has gone out on his own. A New Jersey native, DePalo trained horses in New York in 1986 and 1987 before hooking up with Kimmel the following year.

"I've got a 40-stall barn at Fair Hill and hopefully I'll be able to fill them all," said De Palo. "I've already got 10-12 horses lined up for sure, and about 20 others I've been promised. If I wind up with half of those I'll be doing good. And John is also going to help me get started and send 15-20 down."

DePalo has been going to Fair Hill with a string of Kimmel's horses for the past several years.

"I don't think there is any better place around to train a horse than Fair Hill," said DePalo. "And my concept is to use my barn there as a halfway place where prominent owners can send their promising young horses to get fit before they're sent out to the racetrack. Or to send some of their other runners who might not be able to quite make it in New York for me to run at Delaware or some of the other mid-Atlantic tracks.

"I want to be a trainer but I want to deal with quality horses and this seems like a good way to ease into that type of program."

DePalo said it will be tough parting company with Kimmel.

"We are very good friends and he helped me make this decision," said DePalo. "He wants to cut back in numbers so it works out for both of us. And under this set up we'll still be able to work closely with one another and help each other out when necessary."

Major upset in first 2-year-old race

The first 2-year-old race of the meeting also resulted in one of the biggest upsets of the meet when Euro Liner paid $121 after defeating six rivals at three furlongs on Wednesday.

Euro Liner was ridden to victory by Craig Faine. It was the first mount he has accepted at the meet and only his second winner from 114 starters in 2003. Euro Liner is trained by Harold Schultz, who also was winless on the meet coming into the race.

Austin's Belle slight favorite

A field of nine 3-year-old fillies racing under entry-level allowance conditions will contest Friday's $38,000 allowance feature.

Austin's Belle, whose three-race win streak was snapped on March 8, will likely be the slight favorite over the speedy pair of Super Barbara and Smoking Wine in the six-furlong sprint.

* Trainer Graham Motion was back on the job Wednesday, 48 hours after his wife, Anita, gave birth to their son, Marcus, on Monday morning. The boy weighed in at 7 lbs., 7 ounces.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman