04/27/2005 11:00PM

Stevens stays in Kentucky

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Gary Stevens has decided to ride at Churchill rather than Belmont Park.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Gary Stevens, the Hall of Fame jockey who has been riding regularly at the Keeneland spring meet, said Thursday he has put his Southern California home up for sale and intends to make Kentucky the primary focus of his annual circuit, including the Churchill Downs spring meet that starts Saturday.

Stevens initially had intended to ride at Belmont Park following the Kentucky Derby but said he and his wife, Angie, have "fallen in love" with Kentucky and are looking to move here.

"I'll ride Saratoga after Churchill, then come back for Keeneland and Churchill in the fall," said Stevens, whose agent is Craig O'Bryan.

Stevens's announcement came just a few days after another Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, said he will ride the full Churchill meet. Their presence further strengthens a jockey colony that already includes Rafael Bejarano, Robby Albarado, and other highly accomplished riders.

Stevens, 42, left California for Keeneland because of what he described as a lack of ample opportunity. During his 25-year career, Stevens has ridden primarily in California but also periodically at a wide variety of places, including France and the Far East. He has won eight Triple Crown races, including three runnings of the Kentucky Derby, and he also gained fame outside the sport for his role as George Woolf in the popular racing film, "Seabiscuit."

Going into the Thursday card at Keeneland, Stevens had 9 winners from 44 mounts at the meet, tying him for sixth place in the standings. He won the Bewitch Stakes with favored Angara on Wednesday.

Day's recovery continues

Conspicuous by his absence from the active jockey roster is Pat Day, the Hall of Famer who holds virtually every riding record at Churchill. Wednesday, Day completed a rehabilitation program that followed his March 30 hip surgery. Day's agent, Doc Danner, said Day was prepared to begin exercising horses this weekend.

"We had been looking at May 14 as our day to come back, but we'll just have to see how it goes," said Danner. "Pat says he's feeling great, and he is a couple weeks ahead of the schedule the doctors laid out for him. We'll just have to play things by ear to know exactly when we'll be back."

High Limit works in classy company

Once trainer Bobby Frankel decided to move High Limit's work up to Thursday because of rain in the forecast over the next several days, he then wanted to assure he would get the most out of the move. So he paired up his Kentucky Derby hopeful with no less of a workmate than the reigning Horse of the Year, Ghostzapper, who was already scheduled to work that same morning.

High Limit, with Joe Deegan aboard, and Ghostzapper, under regular rider Javier Castellano, worked five furlongs in company in 1:00.76 seconds before High Limit went on an extra eighth on his own, completing six furlongs in 1:13.30.

Pairing up one of his award-winning older runners with a promising younger horse is nothing new to Frankel, who once worked the then-unraced 2-year-old Empire Maker against the formidable Medaglia D'Oro.

"I wanted to make sure High Limit got in a good work, which is why I put him in against Ghostzapper," Frankel said while both horses were cooling out on Thursday. "I knew he'd be able to stay with the other horse even though Ghostzapper is a freak. He really needed the tough race he got in the Blue Grass and a good work like he had this morning.

"I thought about putting blinkers on him before the Derby, but it's hard for me to do. I'm just not that brave. But I think he'll be all right with another horse in front of him, which is likely to be the case in the Derby."

Frankel said he would like to give High Limit an easy blowout early next week.

Frankel was also pleased with Ghostzapper, who has fully recovered from a severe sinus infection that caused the postponement of his 2005 debut, scheduled for the Oaklawn Park Handicap earlier this month. He is currently scheduled to return in the Grade 1 Met Mile at Belmont on May 30.

"He lost a lot of weight when he had the sinus problem, but he's doing well now," said Frankel. "I don't want to do too much with him just yet, because we've still got a ways to go before his first race."

Oaks runners get in work

A third of the prospective field for the 131st Kentucky Oaks was out for serious work Thursday morning. Working were Runway Model and Dance Away Capote, two of only six fillies confirmed for the $500,000 Oaks next Friday.

Runway Model breezed a half-mile in 48.20 seconds, while Dance Away Capote went five furlongs in 1:02.

Trainer Bernie Flint said he will consider "maybe a three-eighths blowout a couple days out" for Runway Model, who will be ridden by Pat Valenzuela in the Grade 1 Oaks.

Sis City figures as a heavy favorite in an Oaks field that also will include In the Gold, Memorette, and Summerly. Several other fillies are considered possible starters, but if only six run, it would be the shortest Oaks field since Pike Place Dancer defeated five others in 1996.

Dixie Talking was ruled out as a $25,000 supplemental entry by her owner, Skeedattle Stable.

Realistic plan for Miracle Man

In some cases, a 3-year-old who has gone unbeaten in three starts would be on the fast track to the Kentucky Derby. But veteran trainer John Hennig said he and Brereton C. Jones, the former Kentucky governor who bred and owns Miracle Man, "never really considered anything of the kind."

Miracle Man figures as one of the secondary wagering choices behind Don't Get Mad when a field of eight runs Saturday in the 81st Derby Trial. Miracle Man won his career debut here last May, then had more than nine months off before winning back-to-back allowance sprints at Gulfstream Park and Keeneland.

Miracle Man was the first starter and winner for his young sire, Yankee Victor. His second victory, the one at Gulfstream, came at 19-1 and in a particularly good field.

"I have no idea why he was 19-1 that day, although there were a number of stakes winners in against him," said Hennig. "He really showed us something that day. Then he came back and ran a big race at Keeneland, too."

Hennig said he and Jones have discussed the possibility of running Miracle Man in the Preakness if the colt wins the one-mile Trial.

"But there's no need to overreach," he said. "This is a very nice, very attractive, very willing kind of horse. We haven't moved very fast with this horse. Rather than panic and charge into something, we've just tried to get him there the old-fashioned way."

Ten-cent superfectas may be on horizon

Churchill president Steve Sexton said the track is "seriously considering" offering 10-cent superfectas after Kentucky Derby week.

"Obviously, it would be impractical to have them on Oaks and Derby Days, because the crowds are so big and the multiple wagers tend to slow your betting lines," said Sexton. "But we think they're a good idea under different circumstances, and it's something we are thinking about for after the Derby."

This spring, Keeneland became the first Kentucky track to offer dime superfectas.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch

At a glance: Churchill Downs

RACING SCHEDULE: 52 days; Saturday through July 10; dark Mondays and Tuesdays, except May 3, May 30, and July 4; also dark May 8, June 1, July 6.

POST TIME: Derby week, 12:45 p.m. Eastern; Oaks Day (May 6) and Derby Day (May 7), 11 a.m.; after Derby, daily post is 1:15 p.m., except Fridays, 2:45 p.m.

ADMISSIONS: $2 all gates, except Oaks Day ($25) and Derby Day ($40).

PARKING: Free in Longfield Ave. lot; general parking, $3; valet, $5; all parking is reserved on Oaks and Derby days.

AVERAGE PURSES: About $475,000 per day.

LOCATION: 700 Central Ave., about four miles south of downtown Louisville.

PHONE: (502) 636-4400.

INTERNET: kentuckyderby.com or churchilldowns.com.