03/09/2002 1:00AM

Coming down to the wire


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Booklet, the colt who will be shooting for an unprecedented three-race sweep of Gulfstream Park's premier races for 3-year-olds, had his final work before the $1 million Florida Derby on Saturday, breezing five furlongs in 1:00.20.

The speedy colt took another 14 seconds or so to gallop out another furlong under exercise rider Allen Rennie, but trainer John T. Ward Jr., who watched the work alongside regular jockey Jorge Chavez, said he was very pleased.

"He's coming into this the same way he did the Fountain of Youth," said Ward.

As the winner of the Jan. 19 Holy Bull and the Feb. 16 Fountain of Youth, Booklet stands to make history by winning the Florida Derby, which will be run for the 51st time here Saturday. No horse has swept all three races, although about a dozen - including Fly So Free, Thunder Gulch, Cape Town, Hal's Hope, and Vicar - have won two legs.

A victory by Booklet, a Notebook colt owned by John Oxley, also would give him an impressive career record of 7 for 8. While Ward has not specified the colt's final race before the May 4 Kentucky Derby, he has said it will not be the Wood Memorial, which Ward used last year for eventual Derby winner Monarchos.

With jockeys, this is the prospective field of nine for the Florida Derby: Booklet, Chavez; Blue Burner, Jerry Bailey; D'Coach, Javier Castellano; Harlan's Holiday, Edgar Prado; High Star, Gary Stevens; Nokoma, John Velazquez; Personal Reward, Eibar Coa; Puck, Cornelio Velasquez; and Stephentown, Pat Day.

The Florida Derby will be televised live on a one-hour show on ESPN beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern. Post time is 5:40.

Stephentown works for redemption

Stephentown, a disappointing sixth in the Fountain of Youth, also had his final workout before the Florida Derby, getting six furlongs in 1:13.40 on Saturday.

Stephentown posted a sensational victory in an entry-level allowance race early in the meet, leading to him being the second choice in the Fountain of Youth. His trainer, Tony Reinstedler, said he still has a difficult time understanding why the colt was so dull, but believes the Florida Derby is a potential spot for redemption.

"I'm not going to second-guess myself on anything," Reinstedler said. "It's that time of year when we go through the sorting-out process, and now is the time for him to prove himself."

Swale Stakes tops undercard

The main attraction on the Florida Derby undercard is the $150,000 Swale Stakes, also for 3-year-olds. Ethan Man, trained by Pat Byrne, could be a slight favorite in the seven-furlong race, which also is expected to attract Axis, Governor Hickel, Monthir, and Smooth Jazz.

Governor Hickel, trained by Nick Zito, breezed five furlongs Saturday in 1:02.

Other undercard stakes here Saturday are the $100,000 Equalize Stakes and the $100,000 One Dreamer Stakes.

Special first post Saturday is noon Eastern.

Belterra starting year in Bonnie Miss

On Friday, Belterra, who easily won all three of her starts at 2 and is widely considered a leading candidate for the May 3 Kentucky Oaks, will make her seasonal debut in the $250,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes.

A small field is likely for the 1 1/16-mile Bonnie Miss. Among the 3-year-old fillies set to oppose Belterra, who is owned by Bob Manfuso and trained by Carl Nafzger, is Ms Brookski, upset winner of the Feb. 24 Davona Dale Stakes.

Jorge Chavez will ride Ms Brookski, who breezed five furlongs Saturday at Calder in 1:03.60. Rosemary Homeister Jr. rode the filly in the Davona Dale but will be out several more weeks after fracturing her arm in a Feb. 28 spill.

Other probables are Dust Me Off, Miu Miu, Smok'n Frolic, and Stormy Frolic.

Ashland a possibility for Cellars Shiraz

Trainer Bill Cesare said Cellars Shiraz, a two-time stakes winner at the meet, most likely will not run in the Bonnie Miss.

"We're looking at the Ashland Stakes as a possibility," said Cesare. "I understand it's had some pretty small fields the last few years, and if it's the same way this year, we might go."

Cellars Shiraz won the Feb. 2 Herecomesthebride Stakes on turf, then wheeled back nearly four weeks later with an even more impressive victory in the Gaily Gaily Stakes on dirt. Cesare said that if Cellars Shiraz does not run in the $500,000 Ashland on April 6 at Keeneland, "then we'll probably go in the Via Borghese," a $75,000 turf race here the following day.

Another filly who won't face Belterra in the Bonnie Miss is Colonial Glitter, the Davona Dale runner-up. Colonial Glitter will make her next start March 23 on the Spiral Stakes undercard at Turfway Park in the Bourbonette Stakes.

Bravo due back Friday

Veteran jockey Joe Bravo is scheduled to return to riding here Friday after a layoff of nearly eight months because of a broken leg, said his agent, Danny Mellul.

Bravo fractured his left fibula and tibia in a July 27 spill at the start of a turf race at Monmouth Park. After undergoing extensive rehabilitation, Bravo "is really looking forward to coming back," said Mellul. "He'll just ride one or two Friday. We're going to ease back in and make sure we're ready for Monmouth."

Bravo, 31, is the perennial leading rider at Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands.

Tweedside shows up on final Monday card

It isn't often that a Grade 1 winner shows up in a weekday feature here, but Tweedside, upset winner of the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks last year,will make her seasonal debut in the richest race on the Monday card, a $40,000 allowance.

Tweedside was freshened by Todd Pletcher after failing to finish in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl at Belmont in late September. With her credentials, she should be a solid favorite in a race governed by conditions of four-other-than or $80,000 claiming.

o This is the last Monday card of the meet, since Gulfstream will go to a five-day schedule after the Florida Derby. All subsequent Mondays and Tuesdays will be dark through the end of the meet, April 24.