02/18/2002 1:00AM

Aly Quatorze getting good at right time

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Aly Quatorze came to south Florida winless in five career starts. But a little maturity and a lot of patience have resulted in two straight victories and a berth in Saturday's Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes.

Aly Quatorze worked five furlongs in 1:01.20 seconds under trainer Nick Zito's assistant Jamie Sanders on Monday morning. It is Sanders whom Zito credits for Aly Quatorze's sudden emergence.

"Jamie's done an unbelievable job with Aly Quatorze," Zito said. "This is a filly who was a bit on the nervous side and Jamie has babied her and gotten her to settle down and mature."

Aly Quatorze rallied four wide to win a maiden race by three-quarters of a length in her 3-year-old debut here on Jan. 13. Aly Quatorze returned three weeks later and withstood a stiff challenge from the stretch-running Redoubled Miss to win a preliminary allowance by a head.

"She ran a huge race last time," said Zito. "She showed incredible heart to win. She's just a wonderful filly and deserves a chance against stakes horses in the Davona Dale."

The Davona Dale will be the stakes debut for Aly Quatorze, who is a daughter of Louis Quatorze and is owned by Marylou Whitney.

Monday was a busy morning for the Zito barn. Among the stablemates joining Aly Quatorze on the work tab were Quest (five furlongs in 1:04), Straight Gin (five furlongs 1:02.20), and Governor Hickel (five furlongs in 1:03). Governor Hickel, an allowance winner at seven furlongs on Jan. 25, is scheduled to make his next start Saturday in a second-level allowance race at the same distance. That race is also expected to mark the much-anticipated 3-year-old debut of *.

Ethan Man gets more time

Another promising 3-year-old eligible for Saturday's two-other-than allowance dash is Ethan Man, who made a slow track look fast winning his 2002 debut here on Feb. 2. But trainer Pat Byrne said he will pass that spot with Ethan Man and look to stretch his colt around two turns in the hopes he can make the $1 million Florida Derby on March 16.

"I've got all year to run him seven-eighths if it looks like he won't go a distance of ground," Byrne said shortly after Ethan Man worked five furlongs in 1:02.20 on Monday. "He's obviously a colt with a lot of talent and it's time to stretch him out and see if he'll handle two turns. If he was impressive enough, then the Florida Derby would be a possibility, although time and spacing is the problem and I'd have to find a race for him pretty soon."

Byrne could have run Ethan Man in a second-level allowance race Saturday in which Mountain Forum defeated High Star. But the race came up just a bit quick for Byrne's liking.

"I just couldn't come back with him in two weeks off the kind of race he had just run," said Byrne.

Byrne said if other possibilities for Ethan Man include the March 17 Tampa Bay Derby and April 6 Aventura Stakes here, both at 1 1/16 miles. Or, Byrne said, he could sprint Ethan Man in the seven-furlong Swale here March 16.

Return of Proper Man

The work of the day honors Monday went to Proper Man, who breezed six furlongs from the gate in 1:13.60 seconds.

Proper Man had the misfortune of hooking Mongoose, the future Donn Handicap winner, and Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos Jan. 19, when he made his first start since being sidelined for almost a year by an ankle chip. Proper Man was at peak form at the time of his injury, having earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his two starts before the layoff.

"We've been looking forward to him coming back and doing well this year," said owner Murray Smith, who watched Proper Man's work. "Unfortunately he bled really bad in his first race."

Trainer Bill Mott had been training Proper Man at Payson Park for his comeback, but since his comeback race Proper Man has been at Gulfstream with assistant Ralph Nicks.

"He's a big, strong horse and the Payson Park track was a little laboring on him," said Smith. "This track suits him better and Ralph has done a real good job since he's been down here. Right now we're looking for a four-other-than allowance race for his next start."

A winning Habit

Trainer Michael Matz, who is quietly assembling a powerful stable at his Palm Beach Downs headquarters, unveiled a good-looking 3-year-old filly on Sunday when Habit won her career debut.

Habit is a 3-year-old daughter of Pulpit out of the Polish Navy mare Porizkova. She rallied from just off the pace of the odds-on Madam Rochas and easily drew off to win the second division of a split maiden special weight dash.

"I'm thrilled with the way she ran," said Matz, who trains Habit for owner-breeders Robert Kirkham and Claiborne Farm. "She trained well but you never know how they'll run the first time. I'm not sure what we'll do with her next. I'll check the condition book and see what choices we have, but off the top of my head we'll probably look for something at seven furlongs."

Habit paid $32 to win, but that was a mere pittance compared to the $145.40 the Matz-trained Smithson Valley returned after rallying from last to win Saturday's finale.

"I thought Habit would run well but the other horse was a bit of a surprise," Matz admitted. "He always trained like a nice horse but he doesn't always try in the afternoon. So I told Mark [Guidry] to be really aggressive with him and I guess that strategy worked."

* Several contenders for Saturday's $150,000 Canadian Turf Handicap tuned up here Monday, including Galic Boy (five furlongs in 1:00.80), Pisces (half in 49), and One Eyed Joker (half in 49.80).

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