02/04/2005 1:00AM

Straight Line taking it slow

Four-Footed Fotos
Straight Line has not raced since winning the Iroquois at Churchill last November (above).

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - While many of the top 3-year-old prospects stabled in south Florida this winter were in action on Saturday's card, one highly regarded member of the class remains several weeks away from his first start of the year.

Straight Line's five-length victory in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs was one of the more impressive juvenile performances of 2004, but he was forced to the sidelines less than two weeks later after suffering a puncture wound in his hock.

A son of Boundary trained by Harvey Vanier, Straight Line breezed an easy half-mile in 50.60 seconds here Thursday. The work was just his third since returning to serious training following his arrival in south Florida earlier this winter.

"He's doing great, but he was laid up for quite a while, and I'm still taking it easy with him," said Vanier. "But if all continues to go well we'll still be able to make some of the major races with him here at this meet."

Straight Line won his maiden at first asking while racing under a $50,000 claiming tag last summer at Arlington Park. He also won a minor stakes at Arlington, missed by a neck when dead-heating for second in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity, and finished a tiring fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland before concluding the campaign with his big victory in the Iroquois, for which he earned a 98 Beyer Speed Figure.

The March 5 Swale at seven furlongs is Straight Line's first goal, Vanier said.

"If he runs well in the Swale we'll go to the Florida Derby," he said.

Vanier said Straight Line would have his first serious work over the local strip in about 10 days.

Chavez has month to remember

The current meeting is only one month old, but it has already been a memorable session for jockey Jorge Chavez.

Chavez reached a career milestone when recording his 4,000th victory here Jan. 21. Last weekend, he registered the biggest upset of the meet when guiding 70-1 Musique Toujours to a gate-to-wire win in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic.

The Sunshine Classic was one of 12 winners Chavez rode during the opening month of the meet, putting him fifth in the jockey standings behind early leader Edgar Prado and only two out of the second spot held by John Velazquez.

Chavez is attempting to battle back from injuries suffered in two riding accidents here two years ago. He suffered a broken rib in the initial mishap and several broken vertebrae in his back when his mount Midway Cat broke down during the running of the 2003 Florida Derby.

"I rode hurt for a long time, and you cannot ride your best when hurt," said Chavez. "I was in pain for at least seven months, and it took almost a year before my body was back to normal. Looking back, I probably should have taken more time off to heal properly, but I love riding and love horses, and it was so hard to stop. But I'm 100-percent healthy now, and I knew it was only a matter of time before my business got better. All I needed was a little shot."

Six day schedule in effect

Live racing will be conducted six days a week from now through the Florida Derby on April 2, with Tuesdays dark. Simulcast wagering will be available on the dark days. The local horse colony will also get taxed a little further, with 11 races to be carded on Saturdays and Sundays in February and 12 races carded on weekends in March. The lone exception is this Sunday, when only 10 races are carded in deference to the Super Bowl.

"The fields will thin out some, but right now I have no problem filling the races," said Bailey. "Instead of running 40 races a week we'll be going to 62, and eventually we'll have some challenges filling down the road. Fortunately we've got the new grass course, which means I'll be able to card three turf races a day and eventually four a day later in the meet."

- additional reporting by Jay Privman