04/25/2005 12:00AM

Twelve days out, 23 horses want in

Derby candidate High Limit, Jose Cuevas riding, gallops at Churchill Downs on Monday.

It was just another manic Monday on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

Coin Silver ran his way into the May 7 Derby with his victory in Saturday's , while Rockport Harbor ran himself off the Triple Crown trail with his poor effort as the odds-on favorite. Survivalist worked strongly at Belmont Park on Monday, but not well enough for trainer Shug McGaughey to send him to Churchill Downs. Wild Desert is also out of contention for the Derby, with new trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. saying he needs a brief freshening. There is the possibility that Don't Get Mad will be resurrected as a Derby candidate if he runs well in Saturday's Derby Trial, or if owner B. Wayne Hughes finds that supplemental entry Greeley's Galaxy will be shut out in an oversubscribed field. And Derby candidates Buzzards Bay, Closing Argument, Giacomo, and Wilko all had workouts.

Those were the major developments just 12 days in advance of the 131st Derby, which appears headed for a full field. As of Monday, there were still 23 horses whose connections were desirous of running in the Derby, including such rank outsiders as Going Wild, who has been soundly thrashed in both the Wood Memorial and Lexington Stakes in his last two starts. Spanish Chestnut is still under consideration, though his lot in life appears to have become a designated pacemaker for Bandini; both are owned by Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor. If Spanish Chestnut goes in the Derby, Joe Bravo will ride.

Storm Surge, who was third in the Lexington, is on the fence. Trainer Dallas Stewart said no decision would be made regarding the Derby until mid-week. But even if Storm Surge comes out, that would leave 22 candidates. If the Derby has more than 20 runners, earnings in graded stakes are the criteria, with one significant exception.

Horses nominated to the Triple Crown in January or March take precedent over horses not nominated. So, even though Illinois Derby winner Greeley's Galaxy has enough graded-stakes earnings to put him 12th on the list, his not being nominated sends him to the back of the line. He has to be supplemented for $200,000. If the current field holds, he's out.

On Monday, a representative of Hughes contacted the Churchill Downs racing office, inquiring about wiring payment for both Don't Get Mad and Greeley's Galaxy. As of now, Don't Get Mad is 21st on the list, but the defection of Storm Surge would put him in the field, leaving Going Wild and Greeley's Galaxy out.

Don't Get Mad worked five furlongs at Churchill on Monday in 1:01.40.

"If he wins Saturday, we'll see what we're doing," said Ron Ellis, who trains Don't Get Mad. Gary Stevens will have the mount Saturday.

Meanwhile, on the racetrack, Coin Silver gave trainer Todd Pletcher a third Derby starter to go along with Bandini and Flower Alley. Coin Silver earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99 in the Lexington.

"He's fine so far," Pletcher said Monday. "He shipped to Churchill the day after the race. He'll work early next week. He's a pretty hearty horse who carries plenty of weight."

Javier Castellano rode Coin Silver in the Lexington, but in the Derby he is committed to Bellamy Road, the likely favorite. Pletcher said he was in no hurry to name a rider.

"I'm going to sit a few days and see what happens, see what's available," Pletcher said. "The field could change. We're going to get a good rider. I just want to know all my options."

As of Monday, riders such as Robby Albarado, Victor Espinoza, Richard Migliore, Jose Santos, and Alex Solis were open. So, too, is Patrick Valenzuela, but he injured a knee Friday at Hollywood Park and missed riding the rest of the weekend.

Valenzuela was supposed to ride Sort It Out in the Lexington. That colt's second-place finish put him in the Derby field, trainer Bob Baffert said.

"My horse is finally going the right way," Baffert said. "He needs every bit of a mile and a quarter." Brice Blanc, who replaced Valenzuela on Saturday, might retain the mount for the Derby, Baffert said.

Rockport Harbor is going to await stakes this summer, according to a message posted by owner Rick Porter on the website www.rockportharbor.com. "He has missed a lot of training and gotten off his schedule for the Triple Crown," Porter wrote.

At Belmont Park, Gotham Stakes winner Survivalist worked five furlongs in 59.62 seconds, which was the fastest time of 16 at the distance. But McGaughey decided it prudent to pass the Derby.

"We're going to be 20-1 or 30-1," McGaughey said. "I would say he'd have a chance. How much of a chance, I don't know. I'd much rather go down there when I could tell the Phippses, If we run our race, he's the horse to beat. If you go down and run ninth or 10th, then it's like, I'll see you in July."

McGaughey said Survivalist would run in the Grade 3, $150,000 Withers Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct. He said the May 21 Preakness Stakes would then be a possibility.

At Hollywood Park, Giacomo and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko both worked seven furlongs. Giacomo's time of 1:23.80 was the best of four at the distance.

"If I could have scripted it, it could not have gone better," said trainer John Shirreffs. "I was really impressed. He did it so well. He was so fluid."

Wilko was timed in 1:26.80 with jockey Corey Nakatani, but trainer Craig Dollase said he caught the colt finishing his final three furlongs in 34.20 seconds.

"We're delighted. He put smiles on everyone's faces," Dollase said. "We're pretty excited about it."

Dollase said Wilko would work again on Saturday and then travel to Kentucky on Sunday. Giacomo is traveling on May 4, on the same plane as Santa Anita Derby winner Buzzards Bay.

Buzzards Bay worked six furlongs on Monday at Santa Anita in 1:12 with jockey Mark Guidry.

"We put a horse in front of him to keep him honest," said Jeff Mullins, who trains Buzzards Bay. "I couldn't have asked for it to be any better."

Mullins came to Kentucky late last year with Castledale, who also won the Santa Anita Derby.

"If you stay home it's nice and sunny and you never miss a beat," Mullins said. "Back there, it can be winter in the morning and summer in the afternoon. Here, it's consistent. For any other race, you ship in three or four days before. I don't know why the Derby should be any different."

At Keeneland, Closing Argument worked a half-mile in 49.20 seconds on the all-weather training track.

"He worked fabulous," said his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. "Because of moisture in the track, the main track wasn't great. But that training track is a great racetrack."

McLaughlin said Closing Argument would travel by van to Churchill on Friday and was scheduled to work again Sunday.

- additional reporting by David Grening

3-year-old graded stakes earnings

The leading contenders for the 131st Kentucky Derby based on earnings in graded stakes races, the tiebreaker if the field exceeds the maximum 20 entries:

1Afleet Alex$1,245,000
3High Fly 796,500
5Bellamy Road570,000
7High Limit510,000
8Flower Alley500,000
9Buzzards Bay480,000
10Sun King402,500
11Greater Good391,344
12Storm Surge215,140
13Coin Silver201,500
14Noble Causeway190,000
16Closing Argument165,000
17General John B150,000
18Spanish Chestnut124,000
19Andromeda's Hero115,000
20Sort It Out 65,000
21Don't Get Mad60,000
22Going Wild57,250
23Greeley's Galaxy *300,000

* - not nominated to Triple Crown