04/19/2004 11:00PM

Unlikely underdog

Trainer Bobby Frankel feels Master David is unlikely to bounce from his Wood Memorial effort.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Being a little overlooked never hurt anybody. In fact, being a slight underdog is so appealing to Bobby Frankel that the trainer is unable to suppress a sly grin when he considers Master David's chances in the 130th Kentucky Derby.

"I like being in that position, to be honest with you," said Frankel. "You'd always like to have the best horse in the race, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way."

Last year, Frankel had what some argued was the best horse in the Derby, and it didn't help. Empire Maker, the 5-2 favorite for Frankel, finished second to Funny Cide after having been partially compromised by a foot problem in the days leading to the race. Frankel also had the second choice and eventual third-place finisher, Peace Rules, in that race.

This year, Frankel is back at Churchill Downs with a colt who doesn't figure as one of the top two or three betting choices, but one who could very well attract his fair share of support in the May 1 Derby. Master David, who drew about a dozen media members to Barn 43 after being the lone Derby horse to record a serious workout Tuesday at Churchill, appears to be a prime candidate to become one of the so-called "wise guy" horses of Derby 130.

With Joe Deegan aboard, Master David breezed five furlongs shortly after the Churchill harrow break. Starting at the half-mile pole, and ending midway through the clubhouse turn at the seven-furlong pole, the work was timed in 1:01.40, with Frankel later calling it a lot like the colt's previous moves at their Hollywood Park base.

"It was his typical work," said Frankel, who has had six Derby starters and has never won the race. "The good thing is he seems to be relaxed. I hope he does the same thing next week when he works again. He can be a little keen in his races, and that's what we've been working on, trying to get him to relax. He'll need to do that to have a chance in the Derby."

Master David, owned by the partnership of Georgica Stables, Stephen Mack, and Andrew Rosen, finished a close second to Tapit in his last start, the April 10 Wood Memorial. Frankel is hoping the relatively slow final time and speed figures produced in the Wood may ultimately prove a blessing in disguise, as he firmly believes a horse can bounce off a taxing effort.

"You don't want them having too tough a race, especially three weeks out," he said.

As a Hall of Fame member who has won four Eclipse Awards and enjoyed an extraordinary degree of success in recent years, Frankel is accustomed to coming into major races with top contenders. But with Master David being a fringe player in the Derby, the trainer seems genuinely excited about his underdog role.

"It's not that I'm lacking confidence, but everybody likes to say how they have the best horse, and this and that," he said. "Who knows what's going to happen, especially this year? I'm just hoping for the best."

Lion Heart fires bullet

Trainer Patrick Biancone, citing weather concerns, called an audible Tuesday at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., sending out Lion Heart for a five-furlong work in a bullet 58.40 seconds.

Biancone had planned to work Lion Heart on Wednesday but became wary about weather forecasts calling for heavy rain. Biancone said Lion Heart "stretched his legs nicely" in the work, then added: "He probably will do the same thing Monday, probably over at Churchill." Biancone said he had not decided on when Lion Heart will move to Churchill from Keeneland.

Lion Heart, owned by Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor, finished second as the favorite behind The Cliff's Edge in the Blue Grass Stakes in his last start.

Stevens not coming

Gary Stevens will not return to the United States from France next weekend, meaning he will not ride Preachinatthebar in the Derby if the colt makes the 20-horse field. Trainer Bob Baffert announced Tuesday that Corey Nakatani will ride Preachinatthebar.

Stevens's defection left trainer Ron McAnally looking for a rider for House of Fortune in the Kentucky Oaks. In the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, McAnally has hired Pat Day to replace Stevens on Sweet Return.

Stevens, a three-time Derby winner, recently began riding under contract for trainer Andre Fabre in France.

In other Derby developments Tuesday:

* Trainer Jason Orman called Rock Hard Ten "50-50" to run in the Derby Trial, the Grade 3, $100,000 race that opens the meet Saturday. Other candidates for the one-mile Trial include Big City Spender, Bwana Charlie, Capac, Honolua Storm, Sir Shackleton, Tricky Taboo, and Yankee Mon.

* Imperialism made his first appearance at Churchill, jogging about two miles under trainer Kristin Mulhall. Imperialism arrived Monday afternoon from California.

In large part because Mulhall, 21, is believed to be the youngest trainer in modern Derby history, she figures to be a highly popular subject among the media this year. In fact, a production crew from NBC Nightly News was scheduled to begin taping footage with her Wednesday, with a feature to run sometime next week.

* Mindful of the possibility of late-breaking changes, trainer Steve Asmussen said he is content to wait at least a few more days before naming a Derby jockey for Quintons Gold Rush, who was ridden by Jerry Bailey in the colt's Lexington Stakes victory last weekend. Bailey has committed to Wimbledon for the Derby.

* David Fiske, general manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, said Tuesday in a national teleconference that Tapit, the Wood Memorial winner, was scheduled to work Wednesday at trainer Michael Dickinson's Tapeta Farm in northeast Maryland. Tapit is scheduled to ship to Churchill no later than Tuesday, said Fiske.

* The 25th anniversary of Spectacular Bid's 1979 Derby win will be acknowledged Saturday, opening day of the Churchill spring meet. Trainer Buddy Delp and jockey Ronnie Franklin are scheduled to be on hand to autograph Spectacular Bid bobblehead dolls, which will be given away to high-point members of the track's Twin Spires Club.

Delp and Franklin also will have an autograph session with the general public, said John Asher, a Churchill spokesman.

* On the 50th anniversary of his victory aboard Determine in the 1954 Derby, retired jockey Ray York will watch Derby 130 at a party in Las Vegas. York, 70, is the lone survivor among the people affiliated with Determine, who was owned by Andy Crevolin and trained by Willie Molter. "The groom and everybody else who had anything to do with him, they're all gone," said York.

Determine was the first gray horse to win the Derby.

* As of Tuesday, most of the 24 horses Churchill is listing as Derby candidates were already on the grounds or en route. Still stabled elsewhere were Castledale and St Averil in California; Lion Heart, Smarty Jones, and Song of the Sword at Keeneland; Sinister G and Value Plus in New York; Read the Footnotes in Florida; and Tapit in Maryland.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman