01/21/2002 12:00AM

Booklet's win a giant stride

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - So far, so good.

Booklet got off to a good start for his new owner, John Oxley, leading every step of the way to win Saturday's $100,000 Holy Bull Stakes for 3-year-olds. It is an accomplishment for a relatively inexperienced horse to make all the pace and win a stakes going a distance. Trainer John Ward was cautiously pleased with Booklet, a Notebook colt he purchased privately several weeks ago on behalf of Oxley, owner of last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Monarchos.

"I particularly liked the way Booklet relaxed during the early stages of the Holy Bull," Ward said. "He went the first quarter in 23.98 seconds and was timed in 48 for the half-mile. For a colt who hadn't raced since mid-October, it was a very creditable showing, and he got a fine ride from Eibar Coa."

Booklet won 4 of 5 starts last season, including the final leg of the Florida Stallion Stakes. Horsemen are keen on consistency so Booklet's performance in his seasonal debut was well received.

"The experience should help him, too," Ward noted. "If all goes well, he'll probably make his next start in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 16, a prep for the Florida Derby on March 15."

Harlan's Holiday, the 9-10 favorite in the Holy Bull, also gave a good account. Unhurried during the early stages, he finished strongly to be beaten by three-quarters of a length. The Harlan colt, who won four of six starts with two seconds last year, concluded his campaign in early November with a game victory in the Iroquois Mile at Churchill Downs. Trainer Ken McPeek, pleased with the race, plans to bring him back in the Fountain of Youth, which promises to be keenly competitive.

Another highlight of Saturday's card at Gulfstream was the 2002 debut of Monarchos. Last year's Kentucky Derby winner, making his first start since early June, when a cracked knee sent him to the sidelines, was understandably a bit rusty. He finished third to Mongoose and Watch Your Pennies.

"I thought he got a lot out of the race," trainer Ward said later.

"He will have two good works and should be ready for his next start, the Donn Handicap on Feb. 9. If we erred, I'd rather it be this way than to do too much. We want him to be at his best in the fall, when the major races are run. It is very difficult to keep a horse in peak form from January to October."

Crash Course, a 6-year-old gelding by Holy Bull, has been a very nice horse for his owner and breeder, Atlanta banker Mack Robinson. His victory in Sunday's Mac Diarmida Handicap, at a mile and three furlongs on the turf, increased his earnings past the $400,000 mark.

Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Croll owned and trained Holy Bull, one of the outstanding American horses of the 1990's. When Holy Bull was retired to stud, Croll sold a 25 percent interest in the stallion to Jonabell Farm in Kentucky.

Jonabell, in turn, sold some of its shares to Robinson, who sent one of his homebreds, Crash Course, to Croll.

Crash Course is a stretch runner who comes from well off the pace. There was no pace in the Mac Diarmida, with the first six furlongs in 1:17.80. So Jerry Bailey, riding Crash Course, placed him closer to the leaders than usual. Crash Course got up to win by half-length.