09/25/2001 12:00AM

Will Ohio Derby field shrink or grow?


One horse is making all the difference in the makeup of the Ohio Derby.

If Macho Uno runs, then only four or five 3-year-olds may oppose him Saturday in the $300,000 Ohio Derby, the Grade 2 race that highlights the annual racing season at Thistledown in the Cleveland suburb of North Randall.

But if trainer Joe Orseno decides not to ship Macho Uno from New York on Thursday, then as many as 10 or more could start in the 1 1/8-mile race.

Orseno told Thistledown racing secretary Bill Couch on Tuesday that he would decide the following morning, after Macho Uno trains, whether to run the colt in the Ohio Derby or wait one more week for the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. Macho Uno had a minor setback last weekend when suffering from a bout of colic.

"Obviously a lot of things hinge on what happens with Macho Uno," said Couch.

Macho Uno, the 2-year-old champion of last year, would be a huge favorite if he runs. Those committed to oppose him include Saint Damien, Western Pride, On the Game, and either Horrible Evening or Woodmoon from the Niall O'Callaghan stable. Entries were to be drawn Wednesday.

If Macho Uno defects, then the trainers of quite a few more horses have said they would consider coming. Those horses are Even the Score, Free of Love, Mercenary, Top Hit, and Unbridled Time.

Western Pride, as the winner of the $500,000 West Virginia Derby last month, ranks among the top challengers regardless of what transpires with Macho Uno.

Western Pride is based at Thistledown with trainer Richard Estvanko.

"The worst thing is waiting all week," said Estvanko "We'll just wait and see who shows up. I'm looking forward to the race being at home with a hometown crowd."

The Ohio Derby will be part of a pick four wager. All four of those races will be simulcast to California and other major jurisdictions.

The Ohio Derby undercard includes the $35,000 Adena Springs Matchmaker Sprint for fillies and mares. Seasons to Adena Springs stallions will be awarded to the top three finishers.