02/14/2004 1:00AM

Day Trader returns off sharp works

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - There was no stakes race carded for this year's Presidents' Day program at Gulfstream Park. The field for Monday's optional claiming feature is certainly stakes-caliber, though, with a lineup that includes such talented sprinters as Day Trader, It's a Monster, Speed Hunter, Ajedrez, Silver Slipper, and Vinemeister. The holiday headliner will be decided at six furlongs.

Day Trader will be making his first start for his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, since finishing sixth and last as the 6-5 favorite here last winter in the 2003 Mr. Prospector Handicap, a Grade 3. The 5-year-old Day Trader registered his most important victory in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Sprint at 3 before finishing 11th behind stablemate Orientate in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Day Trader has been training extremely well since arriving in south Florida and was nominated for last week's Deputy Minister Handicap. But Lukas opted to avoid the likes of the reigning Breeders' Cup Sprint champ, Cajun Beat, as well as Alke and Gygistar to bring Day Trader back in a softer spot, and he should prove the one to beat if he runs to his recent workouts.

It's a Monster closed out his 2003 campaign on a three-race winning streak that included a pair of overnight stakes, the Longfellow and Teddy Drone, at Monmouth Park. Trained by Ben Perkins Jr. for owner-breeder New Farm, It's a Monster has not worked as spectacularly for his return as Day Trader has, but he has not missed a beat in the morning since early January and figures to be a formidable rival off the bench.

Speed Hunter will be equipped with blinkers for the first time and has been sizzling during training hours at Palm Meadows since trainer Richard Dutrow brought him down from New York following his 2004 debut. Dutrow claimed Speed Hunter for $100,000, the same price he will run for Monday, out of a winning effort last summer at Saratoga.

Ajedrez will be making his first start since finishing ninth in the Grade 1 Vosburgh. The Argentine-bred had won each of his three previous tries in this country for trainer Wayne Catalano, although he may prefer more distance than the six furlongs of Monday's main event.

Silver Slipper, like several of his competitors, enters the race off a layoff, idle since finishing second under similar optional claiming conditions at Arlington Park on Sept. 21.