08/30/2002 11:00PM

Comes down to two


BENSALEM, Pa. - The defection of Magic Weisner from Monday's $500,000 Pennsylvania Derby because of a fever reduced the field for the Grade 3 race to six horses and dropped the number of contenders to two.

In a field void of speed, Wiseman's Ferry figures to hold a tactical edge over probable favorite Harlan's Holiday, who makes his first start since finishing fourth in the Preakness Stakes 107 days ago. Todd Pletcher, who took over the training of Harlan's Holiday in early June, expressed his concern over the lack of speed in the nine-furlong race even before entries were drawn on Friday.

"My biggest concern is Wiseman's Ferry, on paper, would have a pace edge," Pletcher said. "If he's loose on the lead, then that's going to hurt everybody's chances."

The nine-furlong Pennsylvania Derby goes as race 11 on a 12-race card that begins at 12:05 p.m. The Pennsylvania Derby goes off at 5:05 p.m.

The scenario for the Pennsylvania Derby is not unlike what Harlan's Holiday faced earlier this year when he was chasing the speedy Booklet in Florida and Kentucky. Harlan's Holiday, then trained by Ken McPeek, could not catch Booklet in the Holy Bull Stakes and Fountain of Youth - both run at 1 1/16 miles - but was able to run him down in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, a pair of Grade 1 Kentucky Derby preps run at nine furlongs.

Those efforts made Pletcher a fan of Harlan's Holiday even before owner Jack Wolf made the trainer change.

"I thought the horse was very impressive in Florida. He ran awfully well down there, and I thought he ran very well in the Blue Grass," Pletcher said. "I thought he was the horse to beat in the [Kentucky] Derby and said that before the race. He's a consistent kind of horse that always goes over there and gives you a good race."

When Pletcher got the horse he thought it best to freshen him up. After ruling out the Travers, Pletcher said he wanted two races before the Breeders' Cup Classic. Pletcher said the timing of the Pennsylvania Derby enables him to make a race like the Jockey Club Gold Cup or Arlington Park Handicap the last weekend of September prior to the Breeders' Cup.

Trainer Niall O'Callaghan has no designs on the Breeders' Cup for Wiseman's Ferry. He has picked out less prestigious but lucrative spots like the Lone Star Derby, Ohio Derby, and West Virginia Derby; Wiseman's Ferry won two of three and lost the Ohio Derby by a neck. O'Callaghan took his shot at glory in the Belmont Stakes in which Wiseman's Ferry was beaten 50 lengths.

"We have taken the back roads and I wish I was taking the back road again," O'Callaghan said. "If there were a $500,000 or $600,000 race here in the Midwest, I'd be there ducking Harlan's Holiday."

If there's an upsetter in the field perhaps it's Iron Deputy. The Jimmy Jerkens-trained colt showed promise in the winter before getting injured in January. He returned to the races in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, but he was interfered with and lost his rider at the three-sixteenths pole. Jerkens said the horse had only a few scrapes, and has trained well since. Norberto Arroyo Jr. rides.

Essence of Dubai, who was soundly beaten in three Grade 1 races in the U.S., and longshots Make the Bend and Matzsayo complete the field.

Pletcher sends 'Bronze' in Oaks

The Pennsylvania Derby could top a big day for Pletcher, who sends out Bronze Autumn in the $75,000 Pennsylvania Oaks and Tugger in the $75,000 Steve Van Buren Handicap. Bronze Autumn will have to deal with Pass the Virtue, Pupil, and Honorville in the Oaks run at a mile and 70 yards. In the seven-furlong Van Buren, Tugger will face New York shippers Saskya, Belle Artiste, and local hopeful Bernie's Gold.

The Scott Lake entry of The Maccabee and Pal Joey will be tough to beat in the $50,000 Captain My Captain Stakes at five furlongs on turf.