03/01/2006 1:00AM

Bandini sharp enough to set track record

Bill Denver/ EQUI-PHOTOS
Bandini, under John Velazquez, returns from a 10-month layoff to win a one-mile allowance.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Bandini gave everyone a not-so-subtle reminder why he was the third betting choice in last year's Kentucky Derby by setting a track record Wednesday afternoon at Gulfstream Park.

Away from the races since his 19th-place finish in the Derby, Bandini won a third-level allowance race by 3 3/4 lengths while running one mile in 1:34.19. The final time eclipsed the one-mile track record of 1:34.25 set last year by Nakayama Kun. Gulfstream has only been running one-mile races the last two years.

Bandini, who won the Grade 1 Blue Grass before sustaining a chip in an ankle in the Derby, raced on the pace the entire way Wednesday under John Velazquez. He pressed the graded-stakes winner Wanderin Boy through splits of 23.36 seconds, 45.84, and 1:09.34. Turning for home, Velazquez spanked Bandini left-handed and he began to open up. The longshot Halos Sailing Sain rallied for second while Wanderin Boy finished third.

"He didn't get a cakewalk of it, he had to work hard; hadn't run since the Derby so it was a pretty big effort,'' winning trainer Todd Pletcher said.

Pletcher explained he would have preferred to have seen Wanderin Boy and Halos Sailing Sain clear the field early. "We would have been able to park outside and stalk them," Pletcher said. "But [Bandini] broke well enough that he was sort of in there and there was no coming out. That's usually not the ideal scenario but it seemed to work out fine.''

Pletcher said that Bandini could run back in the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaklawn Park Handicap on April 8.

Reversal of fortune for Jimmy Jerkens

After going 2 for 33 during his first two winters in south Florida, the New York-based trainer Jimmy Jerkens wasn't so sure he was coming back for a third. After agonizing over the decision, Jerkens is certainly glad he returned.

Jerkens has won with five of his first 15 starters at the meet - including two stakes wins by Smokey Glacken. Things could get even better for Jerkens this weekend when he starts Corinthian in the $300,000 Fountain of Youth and Sir Greeley in the $200,000 Richter Scale Breeders' Handicap.

In 2004, Jerkens said, his horses "got real sick before we shipped down here."

"Last year was a lot better," he said. "We only won one race but we got a lot of checks and they went back home [to New York] and all won.''

Jerkens said he waited until two weeks before this year's Gulfstream meet started before finalizing his plans to bring about 17 head to Palm Meadows. A big factor in deciding to come was Corinthian, a 3-year-old son of Pulpit whose owners, who race as the Centennial Farms, were going to be in Florida for the winter.

"They weren't going to take the horse away, but I could tell it was what they wanted to do,'' Jerkens said of racing in Florida.

After acting up in the gate and scratching out of the Aventura on Jan. 8, Corinthian won an entry-level allowance race going nine furlongs on Feb. 2. It was a race that earned him a shot to join the Triple Crown trail.

"I like the way he tucked in and didn't back out of it and as soon as a place opened he jumped on those horses right away and showed good acceleration,'' Jerkens said. "When he got to the lead, he started to lug in a little bit, but most horses do that and he was probably getting a little tired.''

In Sir Greeley, Jerkens has a horse who beat Funny Cide and Sun King in a one-mile allowance race on Feb. 2 after he finished sixth in the six-furlong Mr. Prospector Handicap.

"He likes to stalk horses and sometimes [when] they run away from him early he kind of gets discouraged," Jerkens said. "That's why a mile maybe is a little better for him."

The Richter Scale is at seven furlongs, a distance at which Sir Greeley is 1 for 1. Wednesday, at Palm Meadows, Sir Greeley blew out three furlongs in 36 seconds, the fastest of 11 works at the distance.

Artie Schiller fires bullet turf drill

Jerkens brought Breeders' Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller to south Florida, but doesn't expect to run him here. A little slow to come around after an extended layoff, Artie Schiller looked very strong working five furlongs in 1:02 Wednesday morning over the Palm Meadows turf course. When you consider that the dogs, orange traffic cones, were out 50 feet from the rail, it was an impressive move. It was Artie Schiller's fifth work of the winter, but first on the grass.

Jerkens said that Artie Schiller was "real crabby going'' when he first got down here, but he certainly seemed fine on Wednesday.

"A lot of horses do that when they let down after running all year long,'' Jerkens said. "He took a little longer than we wanted.''

The first objective for Artie Schiller could be the Maker's Mark Mile on April 14 at Keeneland, the same race he won kicking off his 4-year-old campaign.

Bear Character aiming for Florida Derby

Trainer Reade Baker has had only a few weeks to get acquainted with Bear Character. But so far Baker likes what he has seen of Bear Character, who will make his 3-year-old debut in Saturday's Grade 2 Swale Stakes.

Bear Character, a son of Dixie Union, won 3 of his 6 starts at 2, including Woodbine's Swynford Stakes, and closed out his campaign finishing seventh in Belmont's Grade 3 Nashua. Bear Character was trained by Dale Greenwood at 2 but has been turned over to Baker for a Florida campaign that his connections hope could lead to a starting berth in the $1 million Florida Derby on April 1.

"He's a little behind the eight ball playing catch up but he's a tough, tough little horse who has done everything aggressively since he's been here," said Baker, the Sovereign Award-winning trainer of 2005. "I watched him run in Canada and he beat the best they had up there. I guess we'll find out how he'll stack up against these horses down here in about 72 hours. If it looks like we're going too hard we'll stop, but the idea is to try to leapfrog from the Swale to the Florida Derby."

Baker will also send out Judiths Wild Rush against Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Silver Train in Saturday's Grade 2 Richter Scale Handicap. The Sovereign Award-winning sprinter last year, Judiths Wild Rush returned from a six-month layoff with a third-place finish in the 6 1/2-furlong Deputy Minister Handicap here on Feb. 5.

"I was a little disappointed with his last start," said Baker. "I'm not sure if it was the competition or I didn't have him fit enough. I did miss some training with him" after the horse worked five furlongs in 57.40 seconds on Jan. 11.

"He worked six furlongs in 1:12 here last week and you can't do much better than that," said Baker. "I expect a much better effort on Saturday."

Along with Silver Train and Judiths Wild Rush, the field for the Richter Scale is expected to include Sir Greeley, Mister Fotis, Pirate King, Valid Video, and Middle Earth.

Pocket change for De Renzo, Hartley

Apprentice jockey Mario Madrid won with the first mount of his career when he guided Turntwo to victory for trainer Wesley Ward in Wednesday's first race. Madrid, 23, came to the U.S. in 1999 from his native El Salvador.

"He's worked a few horses for me in the morning and he's got a lot of talent," said Ward.

Turntwo ran in the colors of Dean De Renzo and Randall Hartley, who sold their unnamed Forestry colt to Coolmore for $16 million less than 24 hours earlier. De Renzo and Hartley banked another $22,000 on Wednesday, the winner's share of the purse plus the $16,000 they picked up when Turntwo was claimed out of the race.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch