04/10/2003 11:00PM

Tabor, Magnier keep O'Brien barn loaded


NEW YORK - If Thoroughbreds were the measure of a man's wealth, Aidan O'Brien would have an easier time riding camelback through the eye of a needle than he would of getting into heaven.

One might envy the Irishman's plethora of riches at his Ballydoyle yard in Ireland. Instead, let us sit back and admire the bluebloods with which Messrs. Magnier and Tabor keep him well supplied.

In addition to 2000 Guineas favorite Hold That Tiger, Epsom Derby favorites Alberto Giacometti and Brian Boru, and other classic hopefuls such as Tomahawk, Van Nistlerooy, Powerscourt, Statue of Liberty and Yesterday, O'Brien will be the beneficiary this year of an unusually large number of older horses which his owners have decided to keep in training.

Michael Tabor, the affable former bookie from East London's tough cockney neighborhood, is always amenable to racing his horses. There is no action on a horse if he is not entered in a race, and Tabor is a man who loves the challenge of the betting ring. Perhaps Tabor has finally convinced partner John Magnier that it is to everyone's advantage to race horses past their 3-year-old season.

This year O'Brien will have the pleasure of training his Epsom and Irish Derby winner High Chaparral, the talented but perplexing Hawk Wing, and Black Sam Bellamy, a full brother to Galileo who took the Group 1 Gran Premio del Jockey Club e Coppa d'Oro at Milan in his 3-year-old finale.

O'Brien is also preparing Milan for his much anticipated return to the races. Milan, 5, the winner of the 2001 St. Leger Stakes, has run only once since finishing a fast-closing second to Fantastic Light in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont two years ago. He fractured his left fore cannon bone before being pulled up in the listed Mooresbridge Stakes at the Curragh last May 6.

With so many good horses whose best distance is 1 1/2 miles, O'Brien's problem is finding ways to keep his older stars separated.

Perhaps his new policy of running more frequently in America this year, announced at Ballydoyle's annual media day on Wednesday, will aid O'Brien in separating the wheat from the wheat.

That new policy also includes 3-year-olds. O'Brien stated that although he will not have a runner in the Kentucky Derby, in part due to the deplorable fact that Churchill Downs lacks a quarantine facility, the Preakness, Belmont and Travers are all under consideration for his 3-year-old team. He singled out Van Nistlerooy, the enigmatic $6.4 million yearling who is a half-brother to Halory Hunter and two other graded winners on dirt, as a leading candidate for those races.

Two horses not trained by O'Brien were assigned their seasonal debuts this week. The estimable Chantilly trainer Pascal Bary said Breeders' Cup Mile winner Domedriver would reappear in Saint-Cloud's May Day fixture, the one-mile Group 2 Prix du Muguet. And Michael Stoute said two-time Group 1 winning filly Islington is slated for the 1 5/16-mile Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh on May 25, when she could run into Hawk Wing.

Andre Fabre has warned that his promising 3-year-old filly Intercontinental, a full sister to Banks Hill and Dansili, will probably not travel to Newmarket Tuesday for a key 1000 Guineas prep, the Nell Gwyn Stakes. Intercontinental ran a sharp third behind Hold That Tiger and Italian 2000 Guineas favorite Le Vie dei Colori in the Grand Criterium on Arc day.

Fabre is leery of exposing Intercontinental to the outbreak of equine flu that is plaguing Newmarket. Fourteen stables there have been struck and the number of horses affected has reached 70.

Newmarket's three-day Craven meeting will go on as scheduled, however, with the Craven Stakes itself, a major prep for the 2000 Guineas, scheduled for Thursday.

The meeting will be conducted in front of a newly renovated Millennium grandstand, the facility that was so much maligned by fans when it opened in 2000. More space has been allotted to the average punter and a roof has even been provided for patrons in the cheaper locations.

On the subject of racecourses, Ascot's plans to build a state-of-the-art grandstand and to reconfigure its one-mile straight course so that the paddock can be brought closer to the stands may necessitate the relocation of the 2005 Royal Meeting to Newmarket or York.

Another course being renovated, Tokyo, is experiencing no such difficulties. After being closed 10 months for track work and extensions to a grandstand that was already superior to most of the world's racing facilities, Tokyo will reopen on April 26, in plenty of time for the Japanese Oaks on May 25 and the Japanese Derby on June 1.

With Churchill Downs in the midst of a major overhaul of its own, it is a pity that the $127 million that has been allocated to the project does not include provision for a quarantine facility. The absence of one is a hurdle to attracting foreign entries to the Derby. That is a situation no track that wants to be considered a major international venue should allow to exist.