02/25/2009 12:00AM

Taqarub faces his biggest challenge

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Taqarub has never been behind a horse at any call in any of his three career starts. That modus operandi will likely change when Taqarub makes his graded stakes debut in Saturday's one-mile Fountain of Youth.

Taqarub won his first three starts in gate-to-wire fashion at Aqueduct, including the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes by 8 1/4 lengths on Jan. 19. All three races were at six furlongs, the last two over the inner track. But with speedballs like Notonthesamepage and Quality Road in the Fountain of Youth, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin knows his young colt's success could be tied to his ability to rate off the pace.

"He's training great and ready to go," said McLaughlin. "There's a lot of speed in this field, and I'm just hoping he'll be able to sit off the pace."

McLaughlin said jockey Alan Garcia told him that Taqarub didn't have to be on the lead.

"We just put him there because it was the inner track," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin knows Taqarub will have his work cut out in a field that includes as many as a half-dozen potential Kentucky Derby candidates.

"It's a nice group of horses and a very interesting race," said McLaughlin. "When they go 44 and change for the first half-mile, which is possible, who knows what's going to happen? But it's a perfect stepping-stone for us to see if we can go a little further. And at least we got a post on the outside that will allow Alan to get a look and see what everyone else is doing and give him some options. If we were inside, that wouldn't be the case."

Charitable Man nears return

Taqarub, a son of Aldebaran, is one of two undefeated 3-year-olds stabled with McLaughlin at Palm Meadows, along with Charitable Man. A son of Lemon Drop Kid, Charitable Man won his debut by 11 1/2 lengths at Saratoga, then came back five weeks later to capture the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont. But a saucer fracture in his left shin suffered shortly thereafter cost Charitable Man both a shot at the Breeders' Cup and valuable training time at a crucial stage of his career. He had his third work since returning to McLaughlin from the farm earlier this month, going an easy half-mile in 49.40 seconds on Wednesday.

"He actually worked three-eighths and galloped out a half and wasn't even blowing," said McLaughlin. "He came to us with a great foundation off the Vinery farm in Ocala. Ian Brennan did a great job preparing him."

McLaughlin said part of Charitable Man's preparations on the farm included twice daily sessions on an aquatic hotwalking machine.

"It's like a regular hotwalker, except the horses are in water up to their chest, and it makes them use themselves harder than if they were just walking normal," McLaughlin explained. "From what I understand, there are only two such machines in the U.S., and one of them is at the Vinery."

McLaughlin said if all goes well, he'd like to have Charitable Man ready to run on April 4.

"We can't have any issues or interruptions until then," said McLaughlin. "I don't even know where or how far that next race might be. He'll tell us."

Albertus Maximus has flight booked

McLaughlin also said that all is well with Donn Handicap winner Albertus Maximus, who will make his next start in the Dubai World Cup on March 28. He'll depart on March 17 aboard a flight that will also take Kip Deville to Dubai for the Duty Free Stakes.

Kip Deville worked five furlongs on the turf between races in 1:04.03 here Wednesday. With Cornelio Velasquez aboard, Kip Deville was well within himself going an opening quarter-mile in 25.73 seconds and half in 52.95 before galloping out six furlongs around the sweeping clubhouse turn in 1:19.30. The temporary rail was set out at 36 feet.

"That was perfect," said trainer Rick Dutrow. "I hope to be able to do this every week until he leaves."

I'm So lucky has bullet work

I'm So Lucky, third in the Grade 1 King's Bishop last summer at Saratoga, continues to impress in the mornings as he progresses towards his 2009 debut. I'm So Lucky drilled five furlongs in a crisp 58.60 here on Wednesday, easily the fastest on the morning's tab.

"He stumbled badly leaving the gate in the race at Saratoga and pulled a muscle in behind," trainer John Ward said. "He hasn't quite fully adjusted yet, but he's just about got himself together and getting back to his level. He's close but not perfect."

Eleven line up for Canadian

The $150,000 Canadian Turf will serve as an intriguing lead-in on Saturday to the afternoon's main event, the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. The one-mile Grade 3 Canadian drew a field of 11, including Delightful Kiss who has had the bulk of his success on the main track and is using the race as a prep for the Dubai World Cup.

The lineup also includes Just as Well, runner-up to Kip Deville in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on Feb. 1, and the Grade 3 turf winners Buffalo Man and Sporting Art.