05/11/2004 11:00PM

Southern Image: How special is he?

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BALTIMORE - As much talent as Southern Image has shown winning five of his first six career starts, trainer Michael Machowsky thought the horse could be even better if he just acted more professionally.

Machowsky believes that time has come. If he's right, Southern Image could to rise to the upper echelon of the handicap division in Friday's Grade 1, $500,000 Pimlico Special when he goes in a field that includes Funny Cide, Dynever, Midway Road, and three other stakes winners. The Pimlico Special is one of five stakes on a 12-race card that begins at 12:45 p.m.

The Special is the third leg of an all-stakes pick four that will have a guaranteed pool of $100,000. There also will be a guaranteed pick four pool of $50,000 on races 4 through 7. The Special will be shown live on ESPN along with the Black-Eyed Susan for 3-year-old fillies during a one-hour telecast that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern.

, a Florida-bred son of Halo's Image, has won four starts in a row since returning from injury last summer. He has won three consecutive stakes, including most recently the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, in which he defeated the top-class filly Island Fashion. Machowsky said he has trained like a different horse since then.

"He trains like a pro now," Machowsky said. "He goes out there and works and he doesn't get too keen early, and he's got an awesome turn of foot."

Southern Image showed his playful side Wednesday morning when he reared up on his hind legs as he was being walked outside the Pimlico stakes barn.

"I've never been worried about him not being as good as anybody around, it was just keeping his mind just right," Machowsky said. "If he has a knock at all, it's he's a real excitable horse, that's been my biggest thing with him. He's not a nervous horse, he's just aggressive."

Southern Image is the 120-pound highweight and will break from post 4 under Victor Espinoza.

Dynever could be another rising star in the handicap division. After ending his 3-year-old season with a good third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Dynever won the Grade 3 San Bernardino by 4 1/2 lengths in his 2004 debut on April 3.

"He really trained well," trainer Christophe Clement said. "He was pretty tight; I'm not sure he can improve that much. If we can repeat that performance, I'd be pretty happy."

Funny Cide, who won last year's Kentucky Derby, ran the best race of his career when he won the Preakness here last May. Funny Cide is coming off a victory in the Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct, and his trainer, Barclay Tagg, has loved the way he has trained since.

Midway Road finished second to Funny Cide in last year's Preakness. He was injured in the Ohio Derby in June, which ended his 3-year-old campaign. In his second start this year, Midway Road won the Grade 3 Ben Ali Handicap in the slop at Keeneland by 11 1/4 lengths and earned an eye-popping Beyer Speed Figure of 123.

Trainer Neil Howard said he has not seen any outward signs that Midway Road will regress. Midway Road could be the main speed from the rail under Robby Albarado. Howard, Albarado, and owner Will Farish won this race last year with Mineshaft, the eventual Horse of the Year.

"I hope it's hot and sloppy because Barclay said he won't run if it's hot and Clement said he wouldn't run if it's sloppy," Howard said. "I told Mr. Farish if we get the weather we want, it'll be a four-horse field and we'll hit the board."

Evening Attire, the 2002 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, should be a late-running factor under Edgar Prado. He has either finished or been placed second in each of his last six starts.

Ole Faunty may be the longest shot in the race, but he is not without a shot. He has won three of his last four starts and was beaten two lengths by Peace Rules in the Oaklawn Park Handicap.

Bowman's Band, last year's Meadowlands Cup winner, rounds out the field.

The field

Pimlico Special Handicap

Purse: $500,000; 1 3/16 miles; Grade 1

PPHORSEJOCKEYTRACK WT.ODDS
1Midway RoadR. Albarado1165-1
2Ole FauntyP. Day11420-1
3Evening AttireE. Prado1158-1
4Southern ImageV. Espinoza1203-1
5Funny CideJ. Santos1182-1
6Bowman's BandR. Dominguez11312-1
7DyneverC. Nakatani1175-2

* Television: Friday, 5-6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN