02/06/2003 1:00AM

Consistency fast despite crooked leg

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Tom Proctor does not have enough horses in his stable to crack the leading trainer standings at Gulfstream Park. But Proctor, a second generation horseman, has enough quality in his barn this winter to have won four races from the first seven horses he has run during the opening month of the meet.

Two of those victories have been provided by Consistency, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled who remained undefeated after posting an easy 5 3/4-length victory in a first-level allowance race Thursday. Like most of the horses in Proctor's barn, Consistency is owned and bred by the Glen Hill Farm of Ocala, Fla.

"He's got really bad conformation in his left front leg," Proctor said of Consistency. "From the knee up he's a 10 but then it really turns in bad. But if he stays sound he has a chance to become a really good horse."

Proctor said Consistency bucked his shins as a 2-year-old and then developed a splint, which is why he did not launch his career until January of his 4-year-old season. He spent much of that time under the watchful eye of Proctor's older brother Hap, the manager at Glen Hill.

"I'd like to run through his conditions for now and then maybe point him towards a race like the Skip Away the end of the meet," Proctor said. The Grade 3 Skip Away will be run on April 20.

Proctor, a son of the late Willard Proctor, a long-time trainer, is also high on his promising 3-year-old Strength Within.

"I might run Strength Within back in the Hutcheson," Proctor said. "I'll work him Sunday and then I'll kind of know if he's ready for it. If not I'll run him in an allowance race down the road."

If Strength Within does run next Saturday in the Hutcheson it will be his first start since he won his maiden impressively here on Jan. 11.

"He was really tired after his last race I could see in the spit box after the race he was blowing really hard," said Proctor. "And long before the press put a name to the bounce theory my daddy taught me that when a horse runs hard it gets tired. And if you run them back too soon you're asking for trouble."

Proctor, who gained national recognition by saddling One Dreamer to upset the 1994 Breeders' Cup Distaff at 47-1, may also send out his top older handicap horse, Bonus Pack, to run in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 22. Bonus Pack finished second to Harlan's Holiday in an allowance race here last weekend.

"I'll look at the weights and check on how things are shaping up for the New Orleans Handicap the following week," said Proctor. "Then I'll see how bad a handicapper I am and decide at that point which spot to run in."

Proctor was pleased with Bonus Pack's last race.

"Harlan's Holiday got the jump on us, but Bonus Pack made up a couple of lengths on him down the stretch," said Proctor. "That other horse has already made $1.8 million. I'm still hoping to make that much with mine."

Midway Cat joins Fountain probables

After struggling in first-level allowance races at the end of last year, Midway Cat had a breakthrough performance in his first start of the year here on Jan. 18. In his first start with Lasix and blinkers, he smoked a first-level allowance field by 6 1/4 lengths.

Midway Cat came back to work sharply on Wednesday, and Thursday morning, his trainer and co-owner, Rick Hiles, decided to add Midway Cat to the prospective field for the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 15.

Hiles, a veteran trainer and native of Kentucky who is conservative in his approach, is about the last guy who would get caught up in Kentucky Derby hoopla. And even though he is giving Midway Cat the opportunity to prove whether he is of Grade 1 quality, Hiles is by no means going full speed ahead to Churchill Downs.

"It will depend on the outcome of the Fountain of Youth Stakes whether we continue on that trail," Hiles said. "I'm a small guy. I've only got five horses here, and I own part of Midway Cat, so he needs to say around a while. I don't want to grind him up and have him go by the wayside. I don't need to abuse the horse to get fame and glory for myself.

"But don't get me wrong - no one who grew up in Kentucky does not want to win the Derby. If he's good enough, he'll go on to the Florida Derby."

The field for the Fountain of Youth, the first Grade 1 race of the year for 3-year-olds, is also expected to include Bham, Offlee Wild, Ozzie Cat, Trust N Luck, and possibly Ten Cents a Shine.

Conservation might run in the Fountain of Youth, or that day's Hutcheson Stakes at seven furlongs. Whywhywhy also will run in one of those races.

"At this stage, I want to keep both options open," said Patrick Biancone, who trains Whywhywhy. Whywhywhy is scheduled to fly from California to Florida on Wednesday.

Out of both races is Funny Cide, who was fifth after a wide trip in the Holy Bull Stakes Jan. 18. That was his first career loss.

Barclay Tagg, the trainer of Funny Cide, said his colt worked a half-mile on Wednesday at the Palm Meadows training center, but emerged from the work with a respiratory infection.

Party Queen will await Suwannee River

One notable defection from Saturday's The Very One Handicap was the lightly raced Party Queen, who would have been among the favorites in the Grade 3 stakes.

Party Queen has won four of her five career starts, rallying from last on each occasion to win going away. A daughter of Cozzene out of the Theatrical mare Miss Lenora, Party Queen returned from a 6 1/2-month layoff to register an impressive third-level allowance victory here on Jan. 15.

"The Very One came up a little quick to send her a mile and three-eighths off such a big race," said trainer Victoria Oliver. "It's a long year so we'll wait and possibly run her in the Suwannee River Handicap on March 2. She's run well off long layoffs so we'll try to space her races accordingly."

Binthebest to challenge Gygistar

The late-running Binthebest blew out four furlongs in 47.60 seconds on Thursday in preparation for taking on sprint star Gygistar in Sunday's $100,000 Deputy Minister Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Binthebest won just once in 12 starts last year, but he finished in the money seven times and often gets minor awards in graded stakes races.

"I think his best distance is 6 1/2 furlongs," said Carl Nafzger, who trains Binthebest.

Nafzger was winless at the meet entering the weekend, but he was ready to fire in stakes races. In addition to Binthebest, he has Softly in Saturday's Sabin Handicap.

"It's February. It's time to start shooting over the bow and see where we're at," Nafzger said.

Focus now on Sky Mesa

With Vindication now off the Derby trail, the focus on lightly raced, lightly trained colts will now fall on Sky Mesa.

Sky Mesa won all three of his starts last year, and was scheduled to have a showdown with Vindication in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But Sky Mesa was scratched on the eve of the Juvenile. His next start will be his first since taking the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 5.

Sky Mesa worked an easy five furlongs earlier this week. It was only his third work since returning to serious training.

"What is on the horizon, I don't know," said John Ward Jr., who trains Sky Mesa. "We've purposely stayed away from making any plans. He's four to five weeks away from a race, and he works about a week apart."

Ward said Sky Mesa was off because he "overextended his right front ankle."

"He wrenched it," Ward said. "At Arlington, it was muddy. He jumped, then his foot slid when he hit the ground. It's similar to a sprain in a human. It's just a matter of getting over the sprain, and that can take as much time as a broken bone sometimes."

* Trainer Ken McPeek, who has acquired some horses from South America lately, is going to Brazil this weekend to watch Hard Buck, whom McPeek calls the best 3-year-old in the country. "He may go to Dubai for the UAE Derby, then come here with me," McPeek said.

McPeek also picked up Art Variety and Naraingang from Brazil for a partnership that includes University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman