03/07/2003 1:00AM

Sky Mesa's shot at Derby 'very slim'


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Barring the unexpected, Sky Mesa will not run in the 2003 Kentucky Derby.

"He hasn't been back to the track yet," trainer John Ward said at Gulfstream Park on Friday morning. "He's still got something going on in that one heel inside the right bulb. He walks under tack every day but until he's 100 percent he won't go to the track to gallop.

"Obviously, the chances of making the Kentucky Derby now are very slim. Every day that goes by without him getting back to the track, that's what the scenario appears to be. Mr. Oxley" - owner John Oxley - "said he didn't want to run his horse in the Derby unless he had two preps, and I agree. Right now that's just about out of reality. The timing is so delicate when it comes to getting a horse to the Derby. Everything can change so quickly."

Sky Mesa injured his right front heel several days after shipping down to Gulfstream from his Palm Beach Downs base to breeze five furlongs in 1:01 on Feb. 13.

"He was on the track when several horses galloped by and he kind of jumped up on it," Ward said. "He really did a number on it."

Ward had planned on getting two preps into Sky Mesa before the Derby. The undefeated colt's 3-year-old debut was expected to have come next weekend. While Ward never committed to a particular race, his primary options appeared to be either the seven-furlong Swale Stakes here on March 15 or the one-mile Gotham the following afternoon in New York.

If Sky Mesa does not start in the Kentucky Derby it will be the second important race he has missed because of injury. A son of Pulpit and a winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful and Grade 2 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at 2, Sky Mesa was also forced to scratch out of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October after injuring an ankle just days before the race.

"Obviously, it will be disappointing to miss the Derby," said Ward. "But right now, we have to look at the other side of the coin. He's still undefeated and nothing has changed regarding his talents. We're not going to get into a rush with him. Even the Preakness would be pushing it at this point. With Vindication and Toccet also out and expected back later in the season, it sure looks like midsummer racing will be pretty interesting."

Hero's Tribute itinerary is unknown

While Ward was at Gulfstream on Friday working his horses, Hero's Tribute, his top older handicap horse, remained behind at Palm Beach Downs. Hero's Tribute is coming off a second-place finish behind Harlan's Holiday in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

"I'm not sure what will be next," said Ward. "There's not a lot for him to do at the moment. We could attack the Gulfstream Park Handicap or wait for the race at Keeneland [Ben Ali Handicap on April 25], although it's at the end of the meet and that's a long time between starts.

"We'll take a read of the situation in about a week and make a decision at that point. Obviously, it would make a difference who goes into the Gulfstream Park Handicap. The big question with this horse is if we should be worried about him going a mile and one quarter."

House Party works, but for what?

Trainer Allen Jerkens has never been one to duck anybody. So just because Storm Flag Flying is unlikely to run in Friday's $100,000 Stonerside Forward Gal Stakes doesn't necessarily mean Jerkens is salivating over the prospect of running Old Hat Stakes winner House Party in the race.

"It'll probably be a big field now,'' Jerkens said. "The only thing is we carry top weight.''

Jerkens was actually thinking about sending House Party to New York for the Cicada Stakes on March 22 over Aqueduct's main track. On Friday, House Party worked six furlongs in 1:16.40 over Gulfstream's main track, her first workout since rallying from last to win the Old Hat on Feb. 2.

"I was not thinking of running her until the one in New York," Jerkens said. "I don't like to [work] one when there's nothing in view. When she gallops, she gallops strong.''

Should she run, House Party would be among the favorites in the Forward Gal, which is likely to include Chimichurri, Fast Cookie, Final Round, Glorious Miss, and Midnight Cry.

The Forward Gal, run at seven furlongs, is the first of a three-race sprint series sponsored by Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable. If a filly wins the Forward Gal, the $250,000 Beaumont on April 10 at Keeneland, and the $150,000 Stonerside Sprint on May 24 at Lone Star Park, she would earn her connections a $200,000 bonus.

Southern Image iffy for Swale

Trainer Mike Machowsky was planning to work Southern Image at Santa Anita on Friday, but postponed the work when the colt came up with a few minor problems.

"His foot was bugging him and he's a little stiff behind, so I decided to push it back a day," Machowsky said. "He's fit and ready, I'm just making sure he's 110 percent.''

Machowsky said he hoped to work Southern Image on Saturday or Sunday. The plane from California to Florida is scheduled to leave on Tuesday.

Southern Image won his maiden by three lengths on Dec. 26, defeating Ministers Wild Cat in the process. Southern Image came back in the Grade 2 San Vicente and finished third behind Kafwain. Runnin' On Nitro, the fourth-place finisher from the San Vicente, came back to win an entry-level allowance race here by five lengths on March 1.

Man From Wicklow works

Man From Wicklow, winner of the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap in his last start, worked six furlongs in 1:18 Friday at Palm Meadows. He is being pointed to the Grade 2, $200,000 Pan American Handicap here on March 22. Trainer Rick Violette left open the possibility of running Man From Wicklow in the Grade 2, $650,000 Explosive Bid Handicap at Fair Grounds on March 23.

"He came out of the Gulfstream Park BC Handicap probably better than he went in,'' Violette said. "He's trained wonderfully. Basically, all systems are go for the Pan Am. I will also nominate for the [Explosive Bid]; I'll hedge a little bit because weight-wise I'm a little bit concerned. We don't need to be carrying the grandstand.''

Violette also said that jockey Jerry Bailey mentioned shortening Man From Wicklow to nine furlongs, the distance of the Explosive Bid. The Pan Am is run at 12 furlongs. Violette said he may try Man From Wicklow nine furlongs in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve on Derby Day at Churchill Downs.

* Yell, the Davona Dale winner, worked three furlongs in 39.20 seconds Friday at Payson Park. Trainer Shug McGaughey did not nominate Yell to next Friday's Bonnie Miss Stakes and is expected to train her up to the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland on April 5.

- additional reporting by David Grening