10/01/2003 11:00PM

War Image best yet for Maker


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Mike Maker has led many a good horse into the Keeneland paddock, having worked for 10 years for D. Wayne Lukas. But since early May, when he opened his own public stable, Maker has been trying to find just the type of horse with whom he worked during his Lukas years.

He thinks he may have gotten one.

Maker said War Image, an easy winner in two career starts, is "without a doubt" the best horse he has trained since going out on his own. A Florida-bred colt by Halo's Image, War Image is one of 11 2-year-olds scheduled to clash Saturday in the Breeders' Futurity.

"He's very talented," Maker said. "He came in here and has done everything we expected him to. We might be asking a little too much of him too soon, but hopefully he'll prove me proper Saturday. He makes a fabulous appearance, and he's got a great mind on him. There are a lot of things to like about him."

War Image is owned by a syndicate managed by Jerry Campbell, a Detroit banking executive who owned Post It, the upset winner of the 1994 Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland. Post It, ridden by the late Sam Maple, was trained by Ronnie Allen Sr., who saddled War Image for a romping maiden win in August at Great Lakes Downs in Michigan.

"After that, Jerry sent the colt down to me," Maker said. In a Sept. 4 allowance win at Turfway, War Image led all the way to defeat J.D. Cat, who returned later at the Turfway meet to win by six lengths. "You always like to see that," Maker said.

Maker, 34, grew up in Michigan, where his late father, George Maker, was a prominent trainer.

Maker currently trains 28 horses, split between Kentucky and New Jersey.

Sharbayan tough in Sycamore

Trainer Wally Dollase's handling of Sharbayan this year is an exemplar of prudent management. In winning all three of his races this year, Sharbayan has eked out an average margin of victory of less than a half-length per start.

By entering Sharbayan in the $100,000 Sycamore Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland, Dollase appears to have found another close but comfortable fit. Sharbayan has been favored in each of his wins this year, and with Pat Day back aboard the horse Saturday, racing fans probably will make him a slight favorite to notch a fourth straight triumph.

At 1 1/2 miles on the turf, the Sycamore is precisely the type of race that should play to Sharbayan's strength. Although he was able to go through two allowance conditions this spring competing at shorter distances, Sharbayan, an Irish-bred 5-year-old, hit full stride when he rallied to win his last race, a turf marathon at Arlington Park in August.

The Grade 3 Sycamore should be a fair gauge as to whether Dollase is demanding just enough of Sharbayan. This will be the first graded race for Sharbayan from seven U.S. starts, and the depth of competition clearly represents a step up in class.

Among the worthy challengers are Rochester, who tends to excel on Kentucky grass courses in the fall, having won the last two runnings of the Kentucky Cup Turf and the 2002 Sycamore; Blazing Fury, a former Grade 1-level performer who is trying to regain form after suffering a tendon injury; and Kim Loves Bucky, winner of the Elkhorn Stakes here in the spring. In all, a field of 12 older horses was entered, including two also-eligibles.

Touch of the Blues loves this turf

Two things worth noting about Touch of the Blues: He is almost always a square price on the tote board, and he has a particular fondness for the Keeneland turf course.

Last year, Touch of the Blues ran in both of Keeneland's rich mile grass races, winning the Maker's Mark Mile at nearly 13-1 and finishing second by a neck in the Shadwell Mile at 8-1.

Nearly six months ago, the 6-year-old horse finished third in the Maker's Mark when he returned from a 5 1/2-month layoff. He was 3-1, although not the favorite.

In his last start, Touch of the Blues returned $12.90 after driving to victory in the Grade 1 Atto Mile at Woodbine. Perhaps it is his inconsistency that dissuades horseplayers from backing him with fervor - after all, he has won just 8 of 33 starts.

Saturday in the Shadwell, with Trademark a solid favorite and a few others likely to garner plenty of betting action, Touch of the Blues once again figures to be sent away at decent odds.

Five likely for Spinster

A prospective field of just five fillies and mares is holding firm for the $500,000 Overbrook Spinster, the Grade 1 showcase to be run here Sunday. The 1-2-3 finishers from the Spinster last year - Take Charge Lady, You, and Printemps - are expected for the 1 1/8-mile race, along with Desert Gold and Miss Linda, the 2001 Spinster winner.

A bigger field is expected for the Sunday co-feature, the $500,000 WinStar Galaxy. The likely favorite would have been Voodoo Dancer, but trainer Christophe Clement indicated Thursday that he was unlikely to ship her from New York. That leaves Wonder Again, winner of the Noble Damsel at Belmont two weeks ago, as perhaps the top contender in a field of maybe seven or eight filly-mare grass specialists.

QE II invites out

Following this weekend, one major event remains on the stakes schedule: the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, to be run next Saturday.

Keeneland's racing secretary, Ben Huffman, said QE II invitations have been accepted by the connections of at least nine 3-year-old fillies, with the field size limited to 10. The leading names are Spoken Fur, winner of the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks, and Indy Five Hundred, winner of the Garden City Breeders' Cup.

Other confirmed invitees to the $500,000 QE II, a 1 1/8-mile turf race, are Casual Look, Film Maker, Maiden Tower, Ocean Drive, Personal Legend, Sand Springs, and Solar Echo.

Trainer Barclay Tagg considered sending Alabama winner Island Fashion to the QE II but appeared set to run her Saturday in the Beldame instead.

Zito to have greater presence

Look for Nick Zito's stable to be very active in Kentucky the next eight weeks. Zito has 32 horses stabled at Keeneland and another 25 at Churchill Downs, where a five-week meet begins Oct. 26.

Zito normally sends horses to Kentucky for the spring and fall, but not in such great numbers. While Zito travels back and forth from his New York base, Tim Poole will oversee his Keeneland string, while Kristin Crawford, a former longtime assistant to Bob Holthus, is in charge at Churchill.

Arc betting offered Sunday

Keeneland is among the many North American tracks that will accommodate fans early Sunday for the simulcasting of six stakes from Longchamp in France, highlighted by the Arc de Triomphe. Post time for the first stakes is about 9 a.m. Eastern, with the Arc set for about 11:30 a.m.

Daily Racing Form will publish past performances for the Longchamp races in Sunday editions. The North American wagering hub is Arlington Park.