01/30/2006 1:00AM

Some consider Holy Bull unappealing

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photos
Jerry Bailey waves to the crowd after finishing second in the Sunshine Millions Turf.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Saturday's Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park is the first major two-turn race for 3-year-olds on the road to the meet's marquee event, the $1 million Florida Derby on April 1. Unfortunately, several of the most notable members of the division training in south Florida this winter will be conspicuous by their absence when the race is drawn on Thursday.

Among those seeking options other than the $150,000 Holy Bull are Bluegrass Cat and First Samurai, two of the leading Kentucky Derby prospects in the country, as well as Hesanoldsalt, currently the most advanced of trainer Nick Zito's large contingent of 3-year-old hopefuls stabled locally this season.

The principal reason all three are passing the Holy Bull is the distance of the race. Like the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby later in the meet, the Holy Bull is carded at 1 1/8 miles. That was done not out of choice but necessity brought about after the main track was reconstructed at a circumference of 1 1/8 miles in 2005, which prevents racing secretary Dave Bailey from carding any races at 1 1/16 miles.

"There's just no succession to these races anymore," said Zito. "I might run a couple in the Holy Bull, but if I do I'll be doing it reluctantly. I'd rather prepare my horses for the Fountain of Youth and beyond by starting them out at a mile and a sixteenth or in an allowance race a couple of days before or after the Holy Bull. But there haven't been any two-other-thans in the condition book. This is definitely not the way I'd like to go."

Hesanoldsalt has captured his last two starts, including a first-level allowance race going 1 1/8 miles on Jan. 15. Zito said he was going to recommend to Hesanoldsalt's owner, Charlotte Weber, to wait another two weeks and send the son of Broad Brush to Tampa Bay Downs for the 1 1/16-mile Sam Davis Stakes on Feb. 18.

Hesanoldsalt was one of 15 horses Zito worked at Gulfstream on Saturday along with Great Point, Little Cliff, and Hemingway's Key, all of whom are still under consideration for the Holy Bull.

"They all worked well and I'll definitely run something in the Holy Bull," said Zito. "I just don't know what I'm going to do yet."

Pletcher said starting Bluegrass Cat right off the bat at nine furlongs, especially after missing a couple of days of training in January, is not the prudent move.

"Even though he's already won at a mile and one-eighth I didn't want to go straight into a mile and one-eighth but I didn't think the Hutcheson at 7 1/2 furlongs was a good option either," said Pletcher. "And when I had a little hiccup after he came down with a fever for a few days earlier this month that kind of clinched the deal."

Pletcher said if he runs Bluegrass Cat in the Sam Davis he would likely run him back in the Tampa Derby four weeks later.

"If we go in the Sam Davis we're kind of committed to Tampa all the way and he probably won't run at Gulfstream this winter," said Pletcher. "It's not only the distance that worries me here but the short run to the first turn in the mile and one-eighth races. If you draw post position eight or beyond you have to take a hard look whether you even want to run at all.

I just wish we had another option here."

First Samurai will make his eagerly awaited 3-year-old debut Saturday but in the Hutcheson instead of the Holy Bull.

"I just didn't think it was fair to run him a mile and one-eighth right off the bat," said trainer Frank Brothers.

Asmussen calls the doctor

Trainer Steve Asmussen's highest-rated 3-year-old is Private Vow, but he is still weeks away from his 2006 debut. In the meantime, though, Asmussen has seen Doctor Decherd rise to the fore. Doctor Decherd nosed out Itsallboutthechase in the Aventura Stakes here on Jan. 7, and will be back on Saturday to face the unbeaten Barbaro in the Holy Bull.

Immediately after the Aventura, Asmussen was doubtful Doctor Decherd would come back four weeks later in the Holy Bull, but he said the colt had trained well in the interim. Doctor Decherd (pronounced "deck-ard") worked a half-mile in 48.80 seconds on Monday morning at the Palm Meadows training center with exercise rider Dominic Terry aboard.

"I was thinking about waiting longer," Asmussen said. "He's always been a tall, light-framed horse. But he's maturing nicely. There's more of him now than there was in the fall."

A large field is expected for the Holy Bull. The possibles include Barbaro, Big Lover, Doctor Decherd, Fagan's Legacy, Flashy

Bull, Great Point, Hemingway's Key, Itsallboutthechase, Little Cliff, My Golden Song, Rehoboth, and Saint Augustus, and possibly Sun River, though poor post positions could result in scratches.

Private Vow on his way back

Private Vow was given a vacation after his victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 26, and though he was part of Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager last weekend, he had yet to have a recorded workout. Private Vow worked a half-mile in 51 seconds on Monday.

"Last week he went in about 56 for a half-mile, which was just to get him ready for this," Asmussen said. "He's a very athletic horse. He'll come around quickly."

Asmussen said he had yet to pick out a specific comeback race for Private Vow. "It all depends on how quickly he comes around," Asmussen said.

"With all he'd done last year, after having the broken rein in the Breeders' Cup, getting painted into a corner, stirring him up for a work, then running at Churchill, to continue with that kind of pressure we might have looked well in the preps, but he'd be petered out before it really mattered."

Asmussen currently has 30 horses at Palm Meadows and 35 at Oaklawn Park. He usually has a smaller string here, and a large string at Fair Grounds, but with the New Orleans track closed this year, Asmussen had to adjust. He said there is a good possibility Private Vow will move to Oaklawn around March 1 and point for races there.

"We're going a different route this year because of Mother Nature and Hurricane Katrina," he said.

Flashy Bull ready to go

Flashy Bull worked a half-mile in 49 seconds on Monday at Palm Meadows in his final tune-up for the Holy Bull, which will be his first start since he finished second to the highly regarded Bluegrass Cat in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 26.

"He galloped out nice," said Neal McLaughlin, the assistant trainer to his

brother Kiaran. "We let him down a little after his last race, just kept him in light training. He had a lot of races under his belt last year. He couldn't be training any better."

Flashy Bull ran six times at age 2. According to McLaughlin, Flashy Bull is "like a pet."

"He loves people. The lady who raised him," he said, referring to co-breeder Liz Squyres, "spent a lot of time with him. He acts like a 5-year-old mentally. He's so mature. That should help, because the mental part of the Triple Crown is so huge."

Flashy Bull is by Holy Bull, who sired 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo.

* Sunday at Palm Meadows, Breeders' Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller worked three furlongs in 37 seconds.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman