03/27/2006 12:00AM

Wood a better option for Showing Up

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Nobody would blame trainer Barclay Tagg if he were tempted to run Showing Up in Saturday's Grade 1 Florida Derby. After all, the 3-year-old Showing Up obviously loves the Gulfstream Park track, where he has won his only two starts by a combined 6 1/4 lengths, and the $1 million purse for the Florida Derby is the largest of any Kentucky Derby prep in North America. Plus, aside from the unbeaten Barbaro there does not appear to be any standouts in the field.

But Tagg has decided to avoid temptation and instead is eyeing the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 8 for Showing Up's stakes debut.

"His first two starts came a month apart and I'd like to keep him on the same schedule," said Tagg, "especially since he's still relatively inexperienced. Dropping him back to three weeks for the Florida Derby might prevent him from running his best race.

"If the Wood were to come up impossible or he drew a bad post, I might consider passing and waiting for either the Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass the following week."

Tagg has two other compelling reasons to bypass the Florida Derby. He trains Showing Up, a son of Strategic Mission, for the Lael Stable, which is already well represented in the race by Barbaro. And he said he would love nothing more than to win the Wood, a race in which he finished second in 2003 with Funny Cide.

Showing Up worked five furlongs in 58.40 seconds here Sunday under regular rider Cornelio Velasquez.

"He'll work again here next Sunday before boarding a plane for New York," said Tagg.

Strong Contender likely for Wood

Trainer John Ward Jr. confirmed Monday that he most likely will run Strong Contender in the Wood. Strong Contender, excluded from the Lane's End last weekend at Turfway Park because of insufficient earnings, was flown Saturday from Kentucky to Ocala, Fla. He then was vanned five hours to Gulfstream.

"I'll probably work him in the next two or three days and take it from there," said Ward.

Strong Contender was back galloping at Gulfstream on Sunday and Monday. Ward said the Florida Derby on Saturday is a remote possibility but that the Wood is a more logical spot, with the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 15 a back-up plan.

Ward said he could have left Strong Contender to train at Keeneland for the next two weeks but that the weather in Kentucky is still too spotty.

"I wanted to get him back to the better weather and the racetrack he's trained over all winter," Ward said.

Ward said running in the Florida Derby "is probably just too much, after all the traveling and the fact we missed a work" in anticipation of running at Turfway.

Six stakes on undercard

There are six supporting stakes to be run here Saturday: the Grade 3 Pan American, the Grade 3 Orchid, the Grade 3 Skip Away, the $100,000 Artax, the $75,000 Spectacular Bid, and the $75,000 Lure.

Gygistar, the 7-year-old millionaire, makes his comeback in the Artax Handicap at 7 1/2 furlongs. Gygistar, a winner in 11 of 31 races, finished third behind Purge in his final start of 2005, the Cigar Mile on Nov. 26.

"We gave him time off after that, like we always do," said trainer Mark Hennig. "He hasn't skipped a beat since we brought him back in."

* Necropolis, the winningest horse at the meet with four victories, had to be pulled up and vanned off the track after suffering a displaced condylar fracture during the running of Monday's seventh race.

* Naissance Royale, making her first start since finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland on Oct. 15, outgamed Esplanade to win a second-level allowance race as the 1-2 favorite on Monday. Naissance Royale, winner of the Grade 2 Lake Placid Stakes in her only other U.S. start, is trained by Christophe Clement.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee