01/23/2004 12:00AM

Will cash cow Macaw finally win one?


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Horseplayers may do a double take when they notice that Macaw lost every one of his nine starts in 2003 - yet still earned $496,500.

"It is frustrating when a horse goes the whole year without winning," said Robin Smullen, the Barclay Tagg assistant who will lead over Macaw for the $100,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap on Sunday at Gulfstream Park. "But it's not frustrating when they earn that much. You don't see what he did very often."

Macaw's earning power is a direct result of the high-dollar company that Tagg has demanded he keep. By earning checks in rich races such as the Bowling Green (third), Sword Dancer (second), and Canadian International (second) handicaps, Macaw consistently finished ahead of more than a few good horses, and it is that apparent class edge that makes him one of the deserving favorites in the Grade 3 Mac Diarmida, a 1 3/8-mile race scheduled for turf.

Macaw, owned by George and Sandra Melillo, was supposed to run last month in the McKnight Handicap at Calder but came down with colic. The condition was quickly remedied, and a steady recent workout pattern at Tagg's Palm Meadows headquarters suggest the 5-year-old gelding may be ready to end his win drought Sunday.

will carry 117 pounds, including Shaun Bridgmohan, as one of three co-highweights, along with Slew Valley and Gander. The weight spread extends just five pounds from top to bottom, with four of the 13 entrants (including one also-eligible) pegged at 112.

Like Macaw, went winless last year while maintaining respectability. Trained by Gary Sciacca, Slew Valley ran third in the Bernard Baruch and Sword Dancer handicaps and was second in Man o' War, helping him earn over $186,000.

The Mac Diarmida is missing several top horses who were nominated, including Balto Star and Hard Buck. Look for them later in grass stakes such as the Canadian Turf, Gulfstream Park BC, or Pan American.

The Mac Diarmida is named for the champion grass horse of 1978. He was trained by Scotty Schulhofer, who is retired but still can be frequently found at Barn 21, where his son Randy is stabled. The elder Schulhofer said he still visits Mac Diarmida, now 29, "every time I go through Ocala."

The Mac Diarmida is the 10th of 11 races on a Sunday card that also includes three allowances (races 5, 7, and 9). First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.