Sorting Out Triple Crown Field : Horse racing: Weekend events could help in the culling process of potential contenders. There is hope but no confidence.


Exit Red Ransom. Enter Tarascon. Rhythm is on hold. And a busy weekend approaches. Finally, Champagneforashley.

There is some hope that the events of the upcoming weekend, when the Florida Derby and Swale Stakes will be run at Gulfstream and the San Felipe at Santa Anita, will assist in the culling process for the Triple Crown. There is hope, but considering the progress made so far, there is no confidence.

In an otherwise quiet week, Red Ransom was injured in training at Gulfstream while preparing for the Swale Stakes. He will be out at least until the fall.

And the little-known Tarascon vaulted into the Kentucky Derby picture with a 12-length victory in the mile Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. That was enough to persuade John Franks, who purchased the gelding only a few weeks ago, to pay the late nomination penalty for the Triple Crown.

Tarascon's former owners declined the initial opportunity to name the colt to the series. "He can run," trainer Jack Van Berg said. "He doesn't have to take a back seat to anybody."

Tarascon's addition to the cast only further confuses an issue already thoroughly muddled. He won four races before the Southwest and was favored over Mister Frisky, the Derby favorite pro tem and undefeated in 15 races, in the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita, where he was beaten by only a length at seven furlongs. Tarascon, a son of Flying Paster, may not be suited to distances beyond nine furlongs, but he is suddenly a significant factor in this mixture.

Meanwhile, Rhythm's palate, which interfered with his breathing in the recent Fountain of Youth Stakes and probably in the Hutcheson, has been surgically altered. The procedure is similar to the one Alysheba underwent not long before winning the 1987 Derby and Preakness.

Trainer Shug McGaughey, who began the season with three Derby prospects and has had nagging problems with each, said he will make a decision on Rhythm's next objective next week. The 2-year-old champion of 1989 badly needs a victory, and McGaughey is considering the Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park, the Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Gotham at Aqueduct as possible targets.

Stablemate Adjudicating, slow to come into form this winter, is at Oaklawn, where he will make his second start of the season in the Rebel Handicap after finishing 13 lengths behind Tarascon on Saturday. McGaughey said Adjudicating may be weeks away from his best form. Polish Numbers, recovered from a head cold and again training well, remains in Florida and will start there before being sent north.

Despite the absence of McGaughey's horses, the weekend's schedule of Derby preps is the heaviest to this point.

Single Dawn will be sent from California to Florida by trainer Ron McAnally for Saturday's Grade I Florida Derby. He will join Slavic, the leading 3-year-old in the East despite a one-paced effort in the Fountain of Youth two weeks ago, and Roanoke, who ran well off a long layoff to finish fourth in the same race, which was won in an upset by Shot Gun Scott.

The seven-furlong Swale Stakes, part of the Florida Derby program, will draw the undefeated Summer Squall and Housebuster.

Summer Squall bled in a workout recently and has not raced since August.

Housebuster appears to be more a miler but remains a strong possibility for the Triple Crown races and a factor if only for his early speed, a quality in short supply among this group. Having won the Spectacular Bid and Hutcheson stakes, Housebuster seeks his third sprint victory of the year Saturday, after which trainer Jimmy Croll said he will consider testing the colt at greater distances.

Trainer Howie Tesher, long in search of a suitable spot to unveil the undefeated New York-bred Champagneforashley, has found it in the Tampa Bay Derby Sunday at Tampa Bay Downs.

Mister Frisky will forgo the San Felipe at Santa Anita on Sunday and await next month's Santa Anita Derby, but Tsu's Dawning, Pleasant Tap, Land Rush and Warcraft are expected to be entered.

Perhaps by this time next week, we will know more.

And perhaps not.

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