02/25/2003 12:00AM

Sky Mesa's schedule hits snag


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Sky Mesa, unraced since winning the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October, has missed two days of training with a bruised right front heel, something his connections term a minor setback in the colt's bid to rejoin the Triple Crown trail.

Trainer John Ward said Sky Mesa came out of a strong five-furlong workout at Gulfstream Park Feb. 18 in good shape, and most likely bruised the heel by "over-galloping" when he returned to training at Palm Beach Downs.

"This was the reason I haven't made any decrees on where we're going with him, because these things happen trying to bring horses back off layoffs," Ward said Tuesday morning from his Palm Beach Downs base. "They get aggressive. We're just on the sidelines a couple of days. It makes us adjust a little bit, but I had seven days to play with, and I figure I've eaten up two of those seven.

"It doesn't concern me a lot, because I'm at a certain fitness level with him, having already worked him five-eighths and galloped out three-quarters," Ward continued. "A little short day or two of rest shouldn't hurt."

The break might reach three or four days, as Ward said forecasted rains in the Palm Beach area for Tuesday night and Wednesday morning will most likely postpone Sky Mesa's return to the track until Friday. Ward remains hopeful he can get two preps into Sky Mesa before the Kentucky Derby.

As a 2-year-old, Sky Mesa went 3 for 3, including a victory in the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga and the Grade 2 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. He was entered to run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but was withdrawn because of a wrenched ankle.

Meanwhile, Ward said that Perfect Story, who was a well-beaten fourth in Sunday's Davona Dale Stakes, came out of her race in good order. Ward felt that Perfect Story, who was making her third start of the meet, was compromised by dueling with pacesetter Ivanavinalot down the backside.

"Maybe we kind of challenged the lead horse a little too much during the race," he said. "We'll adjust her style. I think she wants to relax a little more now."

Ward said he still planned on running Perfect Story in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland on April 5.

Ward also said that Hero's Tribute, a bang-up second behind Harlan's Holiday in Saturday's Donn Handicap, came out of his race well and may be pointed to the Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 29.

"I think we'll wait about two weeks to decide and see where everybody else is going," he said.

Midway Cat will go in Florida Derby

Midway Cat, the third-place finisher in the Fountain of Youth, will definitely make his next start in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 15, trainer Rick Hiles said Tuesday. Hiles had also been considering the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park on March 22, but cited recent poor weather and track conditions at Turfway as reasons for staying home.

The Fountain of Youth was a mixed bag for Hiles, who was disappointed that his colt was so rank in the early stages, but was pleased that he was able to hold on for third, 7 1/2 lengths behind loose-on-the-lead winner Trust N Luck.

Hiles said that according to Midway Cat's rider, Jorge Chavez, "even though [Chavez] had to fight with him early, he never gave up, and he had every reason to give up in the stretch.''

Hiles said he planned to breeze Midway Cat on Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, Hiles said that San Dare, winner of the Honey Fox and The Very One handicaps in her last two starts, would skip Sunday's Suwannee River Handicap. Hiles said San Dare would be pointed to the $200,000, Grade 2 Orchid Handicap here on March 23.

Her defection leaves Calista, the Honey Fox runner-up, as the starting Suwannee River highweight at 118 pounds.

Saarland gets back to work

Saarland, the 2001 Remsen winner, breezed three furlongs in "36 and change" Tuesday morning, according to trainer Shug McGaughey, though the horse was not credited with an official time by track clockers. Gulfstream's main track was labeled "good" Tuesday, with the dogs - cones to protect the inside part of the rack - up.

McGaughey said it was Saarland's second work of the winter, but first in nearly two weeks after developing a quarter crack on his left front foot. "I had to just sort of wait on that thing for seven to 10 days before I could get a patch on," McGaughey said.

McGaughey said he planned to start getting more aggressive with Saarland's training with hopes of running him in an allowance race here in March with a possible return to stakes company in the Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct on April 5 or the Westchester Handicap at Belmont on May 7.

Jolley looking to rebuild

Only two years ago, Hall of Fame and two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer LeRoy Jolley was down to two or three horses. He went winless in 12 starts and appeared to be headed out of the game.

Things improved only slightly in 2002, when Jolley won two races from 35 starters. Perhaps 2003 could be a turnaround year for Jolley, the 65-year-old horseman who saddled the 1975 Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure, and the 1980 Derby winner, the filly Genuine Risk.

Jolley is based at Palm Meadows with 19 horses, including four for owner Frank Stronach. Though he has gone winless from 13 starts at the Gulfstream meet, Jolley finally has some stock to work with again.

"This is the only thing I know anything about," Jolley said Monday when asked if he had thought about retirement the last few years. "In today's world you have to have a large number of horses to be competitive because there's so much racing.''

Though a New York staple for decades, Jolley moved his base of operation to Delaware in 2001 and then Maryland in 2002 because that was where he felt his horses could be competitive. Jolley said he wants to see how the second half of the Gulfstream meet goes before deciding to head back to Delaware or return to New York this spring.

Of New York, Jolley said, "The racing is tough and the living is more difficult."

Of the four horses Jolley has for Stronach, only one, Saint Appeal, has run. A son of Saint Ballado, Saint Appeal closed his 3-year-old season at Woodbine winning two allowance races when in the barn of Roger Attfield. Last Friday, he worked five furlongs in a bullet 1:01 at Palm Meadows and could show up in the entries soon, Jolley said.

"It's easy to see why that operation wins," Jolley said of Stronach Stables. "Certainly the ones they've sent down here can run."

Jolley also has horses for longtime clients Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. and Kathleen Schonefeld. Of his stock for those clients, Randwick and Pardas have shown the most promise.

Jolley also has the regally bred One Nice Cat in his barn for Nickle Back Farm and Windmill Manor Farm. Formerly trained by Aidan O'Brien, One Nice Cat is by Storm Cat out of the Breeders' Cup Distaff-winning mare Jewel Princess. One Nice Cat finished sixth of 11 in his North American debut on dirt last Saturday.

Jolley said he was hopeful of getting some 2-year-olds from Schonefeld later this year. He was also hopeful of purchasing a couple of 2-year-olds out of Tuesday's sale at Calder.