05/22/2002 12:00AM

Trainer backs off talented Cashel Castle

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STICKNEY, Ill. - The once-beaten 3-year-old Cashel Castle no longer is being considered for the Northern Dancer Stakes on June 15 at Churchill Downs, according to trainer Chris Block, who is uncertain when and where Cashel Castle will next race.

Block said Cashel Castle has not bounced back from his most recent start, the April 27 Derby Trial, as well as he had hoped.

"At first, I thought he came out of the race better than he came out of his last start," Block said.

But as Cashel Castle resumed training in Chicago, Block began noticing negative signs he hadn't seen earlier in the spring, prompting him to back off on the colt's training.

finished second in the Derby Trial, struggling over a muddy racing surface and suffering the first loss in a six-start career. Cashel Castle won all three of his starts at age 2, but Block resisted the temptation to put the horse on a course for the Triple Crown. Instead, he adopted a patient approach and kept Cashel Castle, who may have distance limitations, in one-turn races.

Block has mentioned a race such as the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga as a long-term goal, but now his concern simply is getting Cashel Castle back on the right track.

Mystery Giver points for Cardinal

Meanwhile, Block's budding turf star Mystery Giver is being pointed to an Illinois-bred race, the Cardinal Handicap, on June 22 at Arlington. Mystery Giver hasn't raced since finishing a troubled 13th in the Grade 2 Explosive Bid on March 24 at Fair Grounds, where he won the $150,000 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup earlier in the meet.

Block said Mystery Giver is "a hard keeper, and he lost weight when he shipped here" from Fair Grounds.

Block went slowly with Mystery Giver, as the colt regained condition, and on Saturday Mystery Giver had the first serious work of his comeback, breezing a half-mile at Hawthorne in 50 seconds.

Four on the Floor claims a stakes

Trainer Pat Cuccurullo has turned another turf claimer into a turf stakes horse for owner Robert Lothenbach. Four on the Floor, a horse Lothenbach and Cuccurullo claimed for $50,000 late in the Fair Grounds meet, won the $45,000 Overage Stakes here Saturday.

The stakes win came in Four on the Floor's second start after the claim. It took Promise of War longer, but he won the Tri-State Handicap at Ellis Park last summer 14 races after Lothenbach and Cuccurullo claimed him for $50,000.

Promise of War is closing in on his 2002 debut, which could come here next Saturday in the Glassy Dip.

A 5-year-old who has won 10 of 21 lifetime starts, Four on the Floor had lost five races in a row before scoring by almost three lengths in the Overage.

"I was a little worried about him when we claimed him," Cuccurullo said, "because I thought he would gallop dropping in [for the $50,000 claimer]." He ran fourth. Four on the Floor struggled in a dirt race at Sportsman's, but was a sharp winner in the Overage.

His presence in Cuccurullo's stable is part of Lothenbach's effort to climb the owners national standings this year. Through May 20, Lothenbach, a 41-year-old businessman who lives near Minneapolis, ranked 13th in the country with 30 wins.

That's startling considering Lothenbach and Cuccurullo began the year with a nine-horse stable. Mainly through claims at Turf Paradise and in Maryland, the stable has grown to 45 horses, and Lothenbach owns short strings at several racetracks.

Cuccurullo has 23 stalls for the Arlington meet this summer and will send the rest of his stock to Canterbury.

Afleet Buck unpredictable in feature

If Afleet Buck can transfer his recent dirt sprinting form to a turf route, he will be difficult to beat in Friday's featured 10th race, a second-level statebred allowance. But there is no guarantee of that, since Afleet Buck's career has zigzagged between highly promising efforts and complete duds.

His most recent race was one of the good ones, a 7 1/4-length win in a first-level Illinois-bred allowance at Sportsman's. And last fall, Afleet Buck won his maiden by almost 10 lengths in a statebred maiden route. But in his other seven starts, Afleet Buck did not hit the board and lost by an average of more than 11 lengths.

Bred and owned by Irish Acres Farm, Afleet Buck's pedigree points out grass as a viable option, and the addition of blinkers in his last start may have helped the mercurial colt turn a corner. Mike Dini takes over the training for Susan Conklin as the driving force behind Irish Acres, Noel Hickey, serves out a lengthy suspension.

Other contenders in the race include Mythique, ninth in his last start but a good winner of an open first-level allowance two starts ago at Tampa Bay Downs.