01/01/2004 1:00AM

Delmonico Cat a deserving favorite


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Every year, it seems, Jerry Bailey sets the bar higher for himself. Coming off a blockbuster year in which he not only broke the North American record for stakes wins (70) and total earnings (over $23.3 million) but also seemingly clinched a record seventh Eclipse Award for top jockey, Bailey is back at Gulfstream Park to begin yet another assault on the record books.

As usual, Bailey has live mounts in each of the four stakes that kick off the Gulfstream meet this weekend, including Gygistar in the Mr. Prospector and Stockholder in the Hal's Hope on Saturday, and Miesque's Approval in the Appleton on Sunday. But his best chance might come Saturday aboard in the $100,000 Honey Fox Handicap, a Grade 3 event that kicks off Gulfstream's extensive series of grass races for fillies and mares.

Delmonico Cat, along with Delta Princess, will represent Bailey's longtime client, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, in the Honey Fox, which will be run at 1 1/16 miles. Although she finished sixth in the Cardinal Handicap in her final start of the 2003 season, Delmonico Cat had finished in the money in all 12 of her previous starts, including five wins and five seconds.

That consistency, along with her tractability and the presence of Bailey, makes Delmonico Cat one of the deserving favorites in the Honey Fox, which drew a field of 12.

Among the other logical choices in the Honey Fox are the starting highweights, Madeira Mist and Something Ventured, both of whom will carry 117 pounds. Delmonico Cat and Delta Princess are next on the weights list with 116, followed by Miss Terrible with 115.

Madeira Mist and Something Ventured both finished second in recent preps at Calder following productive campaigns in the Northeast. Madeira Mist, trained by Christophe Clement, had a troubled trip and finished just 1 1/4 lengths behind Young Star in the Dec. 14 Designated Dancer, while Something Ventured, trained by Todd Pletcher, gained the lead in deep stretch in the Dec. 6 My Charmer, only to be nailed on the wire by New Economy.

This is the 20th running of the Honey Fox, which is named for the winner of the 1981 Orchid and Suwannee River handicaps. It is carded as the last of 11 Saturday races.

The 2003 winner, San Dare, was among the 27 nominees to the race but was not entered.