01/02/2004 1:00AM

Appleton field looks tightly bunched


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Now this is a new one. Dale Romans walked into the office of Gulfstream Park racing secretary Dave Bailey on Friday with a good-natured complaint.

"You weighted me too low," said Romans.

Indeed, with Bailey having assigned him 113 pounds, the Romans-trained Everything to Gain was relegated to the also-eligibles list for the $150,000 , the Grade 3 turf race that will be run here Sunday for the 53rd time. Whether Everything to Gain will eventually draw into the race was unclear at entry time Friday. The more salient point, however, seems to be this: The group of older turf horses that has descended upon south Florida for the winter is so well-matched that the margin for error in determining who gets to run is ridiculously small.

Starting preference for the one-mile Appleton is accorded by weights, and with 12 entered horses having been assigned from 118 to 114 pounds, that relatively tight spread illustrates the depth of the local division. Two of the horses in the main body of the race, Newfoundland and Justification, will start only in the unlikely event that rain forces the Appleton off the turf and onto the main track. If that were to happen, two of the three horses with 113-pound assignments would probably get to fill their spots.

Whatever the case, most handicappers still will find the Appleton picture to be unusually muddled. With horses coming in from a variety of circuits, there are all sorts of inviting options, and it wouldn't be surprising if any of them wins the race.

Political Attack, the 118-pound highweight, might be the most logical choice to win, especially if he can run back to his last race, when he won the Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap at Calder on Dec. 6.

Otherwise, the winner is somewhere in the crowded mix. Romans, impressed by how Everything to Gain surged to victory in a Nov. 21 Churchill Downs allowance - a race that came nearly a year after his previous start - is a big believer in his horse.

"He's the winner if we can get in," he said.

Other major contenders include French Charmer, Millennium Dragon, Proud Man, and the uncoupled Bill Mott duo of Miesque' Approval and Remind.

The Appleton, which carried a Grade 2 ranking before being downgraded for this year, is the 10th of 11 races Sunday.