12/26/2003 12:00AM

Chavez warms to Florida winter


MIAMI - Originally, jockey Jorge Chavez planned to forgo the 2004 Gulfstream Park meeting to ride the winter at Aqueduct. But it took one cold New York afternoon earlier this month for Chavez to quickly reconsider his itinerary - a decision that already appears to be a fruitful one.

Chavez, a former Eclipse Award winner, rode four winners on Monday's card at Calder and is building up plenty of momentum heading into the Gulfstream meet.

Chavez would probably like to forget the 2003 Gulfstream meet, during which he was involved in two spills, including a nasty fall aboard Midway Cat in the Florida Derby. Chavez suffered a back injury in the mishap, which along with a couple of broken ribs from an earlier incident kept him out of action for an extended period.

Chavez changed agents when he returned to action in New York last spring, turning his book over to long-time friend and former trainer Gary Gullo.

"It's great to have gotten off to such a good start down here," said Gullo. "It's always nice to go into Gulfstream on a roll. We've already got a lot of business lined up, including the mounts on Voodoo in the Mr. Prospector for Jimmy Jerkens and Puzzlement for Allen Jerkens in the Hal's Hope. One of our main goals is to get back some of the old outfits Jorge has had so much success with in the past, like Nick Zito, John Ward, and Jim Bond. The other is to find a good 3-year-old for the Triple Crown races."

Chavez, who was at Santa Anita on Friday to ride Toccet in the Malibu Stakes, won the 2001 Kentucky Derby for Ward aboard Monarchos.

A strong field is shaping up for the Mr. Prospector, one of three stakes to be run on the Jan. 3 opening day program at Gulfstream.

Among those expected to join Voodoo in the starting gate for the six-furlong Mr. Prospector are reigning Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Cajun Beat; the talented but lightly raced Eugene's Third Son; Grade 1 winner Gygistar; former Canadian sprint champ Wake at Noon; and perhaps Multiple Choice.

"I'm leaning towards running both Voodoo and Multiple Choice in the Mr. Prospector, although both are eligible for a seven-furlong allowance race in the book later in the week," said Jimmy Jerkens on Friday. "I also have Iron Deputy eligible for that race, and right now I'd prefer to run him in that spot."

Voodoo is trying to bounce back off a seventh-place finish in the Cigar Mile after winning the Grade 3 Sport Page Handicap in his previous start.

"He was pretty flat in the Cigar Mile," said Jerkens. "We tried to rate him off the speed of Congaree, and he wound up in between horses where he didn't like it."

Multiple Choice, who won the 2002 Sport Page and the Grade 3 Gravesend in his 3-year-old finale, was winless in four starts this year.

True Direction unlikely to run

Trainer Carlos Morales said Friday he planned to pass the Mr. Prospector with True Direction, the winner of the 2002 Fall Highweight. True Direction has not started since finishing third as the 7-5 favorite in the James B. Moseley Handicap at Suffolk Downs on June 21.

Morales explained True Direction has been sidelined because of a recurring quarter crack problem that has hampered him throughout his career.

"He's coming along well so far, but I don't want to rush him," Morales said Friday. "The Mr. Prospector had been in our plans, but I missed a couple of breezes due to the weather before leaving New York, so it's not on the schedule now. I hope to be able to bring him back in a six-furlong allowance race early in the Gulfstream meet."

Funny Cide works for Donn

Funny Cide worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.40 Friday at Palm Meadows. Funny Cide was not among the nominees for next Saturday's Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap and is being pointed for the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 7.