08/21/2003 11:00PM

Zito experiences ups and downs

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Nick Zito rode the roller coaster of emotions Friday.

At 6:15 a.m., Zito was delighted after watching Birdstone, his impressive 2-year-old maiden winner, drill five furlongs in 1:00.02 over Saratoga's main track in preparation for next Saturday's Grade 1, $200,000 Hopeful Stakes.

Birdstone, a half-brother to Kentucky Oaks winner Bird Town who won his maiden by 12 1/2 lengths on Aug. 2, worked in company with Gulch Approval and Global Attraction. He began two lengths behind those horses and finished three in front according to exercise rider Maxine Correa, who was aboard Birdstone. The move was the third fastest of 35 recorded at the distance.

"Just beautiful,'' Zito said.

Two hours later, Zito was heartbroken when Uncle Sonny, a 2-year-old son of Coronado's Quest who finished fourth in his first start, suffered a catastrophic injury while galloping over the main track. He fractured the sesamoid bone in his left foreleg and had to be euthanized.

"They take one bad step,'' Zito said, shaking his head. "No matter how long you're in the game it's just hard. We hold our breath every time they got out there. It's frustrating. The worst part of the game is the injuries, but we have no control over them.''

The afternoon was a similar case of highs and lows for Zito. In the third race, he watched as Indian Express was pulled up by jockey Shane Sellers during the running of a maiden turf race. Indian Express was vanned off, but according to Zito, he was uninjured.

"Shane said he stepped in a hole and he couldn't take a chance,'' Zito said. "We needed a break.''

Zito's day got better when Cherokee Park, a 3-year-old son of Boston Park, won a seven-furlong maiden race by 1 3/4 lengths. Overall, Zito is enjoying a successful meet with seven wins from 51 starters.

Mineshaft in sharp Woodward drill

Mineshaft, regarded by many as the leading handicap horse in the country, drilled six furlongs in 1:13.02 over the main track Friday morning, the fasted by two seconds of four works at the distance. Mineshaft, who has wins in the Pimlico Special and Suburban handicaps, is being pointed to the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont on Sept. 6

"I thought it was excellent; I was thrilled,'' said trainer Neil Howard, who noted he caught Mineshaft in six furlongs 1:12.60, seven-eighths in 1:25, and a mile in 1:39. "He finished up great. It was the kind of work you'd like to see.''

Howard said Mineshaft would have two more works prior to the Woodward, one at Saratoga and one at Belmont.

Serpe fined for display of temper

Trainer Phil Serpe was fined $5,000 by the stewards for "displaying extreme temper'' towards Dr. Celeste Kunz, the chief examining veterinarian for the New York Racing Association. Half of the fine will be waived providing Serpe does not get into any altercations in the future.

The incident occurred in front of the clubhouse stands following the running of Thursday's sixth race. After finishing seventh in the maiden turf race, the Serpe-trained Pay the Dancer appeared in distress while galloping back to the unsaddling area.

Serpe believed the distress to be related to the heat, while Kunz believed there was a more serious problem. Serpe got into a heated exchange with Kunz while he hosed down the filly. Kunz, who went to examine the filly's ankle, got sprayed with water, though Serpe said it was unintentional.

As it turned out, Pay the Dancer suffered a chip fracture in the sesamoid bone in her left foreleg, which may require surgery.

"I wanted to do what I wanted to on the racetrack and Celeste wanted to do what she wanted to and she is the veterinarian for NYRA and that supersedes my trainer's sole responsibility rule,'' Serpe said. "I got a little heated up; it's over."

"He was extremely rude to her, that's the reason we came down so hard on him,'' said NYRA steward Dave Hicks. "Especially when she's trying to do her job. She did the right thing.''

Kunz said it was apparent right away that there was an injury to the ankle.

"It was a very straight-forward diagnosis,'' Kunz said. "My responsibility and the reason we're here is we have to address injuries to the horse. We don't have X-ray eyes but you'd be amazed how accurate we are.''

A Great Team aims for third straight

Nobody would have argued had trainer Shug McGaughey entered A Great Team in Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes. With sharp victories in his last two starts, A Great Team looks to be a rapidly improving 3-year-old.

But, McGaughey has elected to be conservative with A Great Team and has entered him in a second-level allowance race at nine furlongs here on Sunday.

"I think he's still a project,'' McGaughey said. "I think he's a nice horse. I didn't want to throw him to the wolves too soon. His last race surprised me a bit how well he ran. The race before was good, not anything special.''

McGaughey said one reason he took his time with A Great Team is that he comes from a family with physical problems. "His mother [Pennant Champion] was a little bit unsound,'' he said.

McGaughey said should A Great Team run well on Sunday, he would consider the $150,000 Jerome Handicap at Belmont on Sept. 13. He also will consider the Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct on Oct. 29.

Tweedside injured, likely retired

Tweedside, the winner of the 2001 Coaching Club American Oaks, emerged from a recent work with a leg fracture and likely will be retired.

Todd Pletcher, Tweedside's trainer, said the injury was detected after the 5-year-old worked here on Monday for a possible start in the $200,000 Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup on the Travers undercard. The fracture was in the sesamoid bone of Tweedside's right foreleg.

A daughter of Thunder Gulch, Tweedside is owned by Eugene and Laura Melnyk. Last year, Tweedside won Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap on grass at Belmont Park. In her last start, Tweedside won the off-the-turf Orchid Handicap at Gulfstream Park on March 23.

She earned $646,791 and compiled a record of 7-4-1 in 20 starts.

Santos will serve days at end of meet

Jockey Jose Santos will miss the last six days of the Saratoga meet because he will begin serving a 10-day careless riding suspension on Tuesday, according to his agent, Mike Sellitto.

The suspension was handed down by the stewards on opening day of the Saratoga meet for Santos's ride on Light Night, who won the race but was disqualified and placed second for drifting out under a left-handed whip in the stretch. The suspension was originally seven days but since Santos appealed the ruling, it automatically became 10 days.

Sellitto said rather than pushing the suspension to a future date, he and Santos decided now was the best time to serve the days.

"We did have a lot going on here the last week," Sellitto said. "But we didn't want to go through a process of another hearing, which was supposed to be on Monday."

Sellitto said Santos would resume riding on opening day of the Belmont Park fall meet, Sept. 5.

Reinstedler to keep Sand Springs busy

Sand Springs, who won the Grade 2 Lake Placid on Aug. 17, is being pointed to the Grade 1 Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont Park on Sept. 7.

The Lake Placid was Sand Springs's second win in a graded stakes race this year for her owner, Willmott Stables, and trainer, Tony Reinstedler. In June at Churchill Downs, Sand Springs won the Grade 3 Regret.

In her start before the Lake Placid, Sand Springs finished second in the American Oaks at Hollywood Park on July 5.

Reinstedler said he is happy with the timing of the Garden City.

"She stays a lot happier with her races close together," Reinstedler said. "She always wants to do too much and is hard on herself. She's been great here because I can train her on the hill [at Oklahoma] and that keeps her more relaxed. She doesn't need a lot of training."

Reinstedler said after the Garden City, he would like to target the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Keeneland.

Dynamic Lisa to Glens Falls

Dynamic Lisa, who won the first division of the Yaddo Stakes on Aug. 15, will run back in Monday's $100,000-added Glens Falls.

Others expected in the Grade 3 Glens Falls, a 1 3/8-mile grass race, are Alternate, Beyond the Waves, Cozie Advantage, Ellie's Quest, Lady of the Future, Mariensky, Primetimevalentine, Sixty Seconds, Sunstone, and Trekking.

Mariensky was assigned highweight of 119 pounds.

Scott Schwartz, who trains Dynamic Lisa for his father, Herbert, said he would have preferred more time in between races.

"Two to three weeks would be perfect," Schwartz said. "But she gets in light with 112 [pounds] and has only run three times this year."

Schwartz said that Peter Pan winner Go Rockin' Robin, who finished fourth in Wednesday's Albany Handicap, will be given a rest and will return to the races next year as a 4-year-old.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson