12/17/2003 1:00AM

Donn Handicap the target for Funny Cide

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MIAMI - About the only one happier to be at the Palm Meadows training center this winter than trainer Barclay Tagg may be the star of his stable, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide.

"He just loves it up here, and so do I," Tagg said from the clockers stand at Palm Meadows on Tuesday morning, while watching one of his horses breeze. "This is without a doubt the best track I've ever trained over in my career."

Tagg prepared Funny Cide for his Triple Crown run last winter at Palm Meadows and is slowly getting him ready to begin his 4-year-old campaign during the upcoming Gulfstream Park meeting.

"He hasn't done much since we've gotten here," Tagg said. "I've worked him a couple of easy half-miles, and he'll breeze again on Thursday. Right now I'm pointing him for the Donn Handicap [on Feb. 7]. I'd like to get one race into him before then, but I can train him up to the Donn if I have to."

Tagg ruled out the possibility that the prep race will be the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap, one of three stakes on Gulfstream's opening-day program on Jan. 3. He also said he would not run Funny Cide in any race, including the Donn, if the weather is too hot.

"I ran him twice in really hot weather last year, and they were his two worst races," said Tagg, referring to the Haskell and the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"I don't care if there are 40 people flying in to watch him run," Tagg said. "If it's too hot, I'll scratch him."

Birthday present for Gander - a stakes win?

One horse who will be in the starting gate for the 1 1/16-mile Hal's Hope will be the veteran Gander, who worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds before galloping out in 1:12.20 under jockey Jose Santos at Palm Meadows on Tuesday.

Gander will turn 8 years old two days before the Hal's Hope. The New York-bred closed out his 2003 campaign with a third-place finish in the Stuyvesant Handicap on Nov. 11.

"When Gander works good, Gander usually runs good, and he's training really well right now," said Tonja Terranova, who oversaw Tuesday's work in the absence of her husband, trainer John Terranova. "Jose will ride him for the first time in the Hal's Hope, and we wanted to give him a chance to get acquainted with the horse by working him this morning."

Gander won his single start at Gulfstream this year, a March 21 optional claiming race.

New Economy among Grand Slam II nominees

Nominations have been released for all four stakes on the Grand Slam II program at Calder on Dec. 27, including the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight and La Prevoyante handicaps.

Among the nominees to the 1 1/2-mile McKnight are defending champion Man From Wicklow, Balto Star, and the Juddmonte Farm pair of Epicentre and Continuously.

Topping the 19 fillies and mares eligible for the La Prevoyante are defending champ New Economy, who tuned up for the race by winning the My Charmer Handicap here on Dec. 7.

One of New Economy's main rivals in quest of a second straight La Prevoyante title will be Volga, winner of Woodbine's Grade 1 E.P. Taylor on Oct. 19. Richard Migliore will fly down from New York to ride Volga, who worked an easy half-mile in 50.40 seconds at Palm Meadows on Tuesday.

Also on the program is the Grade 3, $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap. The Judge Sez Who will attempt to defend his title, and he worked a mile in 1:45.40 at Calder on Wednesday.

* Charlie Purcell Sr., a veteran trainer who also served as a racing official at Calder, died Monday in Hallandale Beach, Fla., at age 83. Purcell, who went to work in the Calder racing office after retiring from training in 1979, is survived by his wife, Pearl.