04/02/2008 12:00AM

Wolfson softens stance, ships Golden Spikes


STICKNEY, Ill. - The oft-covered pop song "I Fought the Law" first came out in 1959, its chorus famously stating, "I fought the law, and the law won." Well, such was not the case with trainer Marty Wolfson.

Wolfson last shipped a horse from his Florida base to Illinois in July 2006. Can't Beat It finished second in the American Derby, but by late summer had been disqualified after testing positive for two medications that then were not permitted at any level when a horse raced in Illinois. Outraged at what he perceived to be an injustice, Wolfson appealed the penalty, and vowed never to run another horse here.

But Wolfson fought the law - and pretty much won.

Satisfied that an amended penalty handed down last fall was fair enough, Wolfson reconsidered his position. And when Saturday's Illinois Derby seemed like the best spot for the Wolfson-trained Golden Spikes, he shipped the horse here after entering him Monday.

"I was never coming back there, believe me," Wolfson said.

Can't Beat It tested positive for two Class 4 medications, naproxen and isoxuprine. Naproxen is an anti-inflammatory drug, while isoxuprine is regularly used to improve circulation in horses' hooves, and both medications are considered therapeutic and commonly used. But at the time of Can't Beat It's race, neither was allowed even at trace levels when a horse raced in Illinois. The rules here differed from Florida's; there, horses had to be taken off the medications a few days before they raced, while in Illinois, the withdrawal time was three weeks.

Can't Beat It was disqualified from his placing, and Wolfson initially was fined $1,000 for each violation, but after considering the appeal, the Illinois Racing Board last fall vacated the isoxuprine ruling and restored Can't Beat It's second-place finish. The board had since set a threshold level for isoxuprine, and Wolfson's case was considered retroactively. The naproxen positive was upheld, but Wolfson felt exonerated.

"That's why I'm back," he said.

Golden Spikes was one of seven horses entered in Saturday's $500,000 Illinois Derby, a race that should have Denis of Cork as the favorite, and Golden Spikes as the pacesetter. A winner in his debut going 4 1/2 furlongs last July, Golden Spikes has raced on the lead in his two route races, the first of them a fine allowance-race second to Cool Coal Man, the more recent a somewhat disappointing fifth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth, which Cool Coal Man won.

"It was a dead rail that day, and they sent another horse right at him," Wolfson said. "My horse just got tired."

Golden Spikes, a $250,000 yearling purchase by Seeking the Gold, races without blinkers Saturday for the first time in five races. Wolfson first used them to counter greenness, but more recently Golden Spikes has gotten rank early in his races.

"Since I've taken the blinkers off, his last few works have been exceptional," Wolfson said. "He's just maturing now."

Wolfson will trust strategy Saturday to Tim Thornton, who has opened a huge 41-12 lead in the jockey standings here this spring. Wolfson said he secured Thornton's services because his was the name at the top of the leader board, but after watching replays of some of Thornton's rides, he came away pleased.

"I was impressed with him after I watched him," Wolfson said.

Wolfson said he preferred a local jock to deal with the occasional quirks of the Hawthorne racetrack. That Wolfson is dealing with a Chicago track at all is something that would not have happened a year ago.