03/22/2003 12:00AM

'Castle,' Puzzlement breeze easily


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Spring may have officially begun Friday but it's been like summertime in south Florida for several weeks. That fact was not lost on trainers Frank Alexander and Allen Jerkens when they sent their Gulfstream Park Handicap candidates Windsor Castle and Puzzlement out to work on another hot, steamy morning here Saturday.

Windsor Castle breezed an easy five furlongs in 1:02.40, while Puzzlement worked an even easier mile, although officially credited with six furlongs in 1:19.

"It's so hot and the track was a little dry, so there was no sense pushing him too fast this morning," said Alexander, who trains Windsor Castle for Dogwood Stable.

Windsor Castle rallied from last to win the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap in his 2003 debut. Five weeks later in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap he hit the inner rail after being put in tight quarters in the run to the clubhouse turn and finished sixth.

"The incident on the first turn rocked him a little bit and then he was trapped inside the whole way in the Donn," Alexander said. "We had to scrape the mud off him when he got back to the barn, that's how bad it was. He made his run but was just left with too much to do over a speed-favoring track and still got beat less than six lengths."

The Gulfstream Park Handicap will mark the first time Windsor Castle has tried 1 1/4 miles, but Alexander is confident his horse will handle the added ground.

"He won going a mile and one-eighth as a 2-year-old, so I see no reason he won't get a mile and a quarter at this stage of his career," Alexander said. "I just hope there is some speed in the race."

Puzzlement rallied from far back over a speed-biased track in the Donn to finish third behind Harlan's Holiday and Hero's Tribute. Jerkens said a slow mile was all his horse needed to stay sharp for next Saturday.

"It's difficult to keep them in top form when it's so hot like this and you have a month between starts," Jerkens said. "It's hard to get it just right."

Puzzlement has gone 10 furlongs twice in his career, both times against Grade 1 competition, finishing fifth in the Travers and eighth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last year.

"I'm not concerned about the distance," Jerkens said. "It's just a matter of whether he can handle the horses in the race. When you have a horse like this you just take your shot where you can and hope if everything falls in line with him he'll win one of these [big] races."

Windsor Castle and Puzzlement are expected to be joined in the starting gate for the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap by Aeneas, Balto Star, Bonus Back, Generous Rosi, Hero's Tribute, and The Judge Sez Who.

Generous Rosi, who is expected to be among the early pacesetters, was entered for dirt only and thus scratched out of Saturday's $200,000 Pan American Handicap on turf. Trainer Niall O'Callaghan said waiting to run Generous Rosi in the Gulfstream Park Handicap was pretty much a no-brainer.

"He's got a win over the track, he's won over a mile and a quarter, and he could be the lone speed in the race," O'Callaghan said. "And the purse is $300,000."

O'Callaghan was also pleased with the performance of Wiseman's Ferry, who finished second behind odds-on favorite Gander in Friday's featured allowance race. It was the first start for the multiple Grade 3 winner since September.

"Considering he got caught up in a speed duel with Roger E, I thought he ran very well for the first time back," said O'Callaghan, who is looking at either the National Jockey Club Handicap at Hawthorne or Lone Star's Texas Mile for Wiseman's Ferry's next start.

Plesa makes record claim

Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. made what is believed to be the highest-priced claim in Gulfstream history when he haltered Lord Abounding out of Saturday's third race on behalf of the Bridlepath Stable for $150,000.

Lord Abounding, a 4-year-old son of Lord Avie, won the race by 5 1/4 lengths while missing the seven-furlong track record of 1:20 by only two-fifths of a second. Among his four victims in the race was Keats, who had finished fourth after setting the early pace in the Donn just four weeks earlier.

Lord Abounding had been claimed from his prior start Feb. 28 by owner Mike Gill and trainer Mark Shuman for $65,000.

* Wild Horses, who finished second in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby before being overmatched in the 2002 Kentucky Derby, has finally gotten back on the winning track. He easily defeated his uncoupled stablemate Pleasant Hall and a field of first-level allowance horses in Saturday's seventh race. Wild Horses is trained by Todd Pletcher for Peachtree Stable.