02/17/2003 1:00AM

Donn suddenly a more popular race


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The prospective starting lineup for Saturday's $500,000 Donn Handicap swelled to as many as 11 horses on Monday, in large part because of the defection of Lido Palace, who was withdrawn from consideration for the race on Saturday by trainer Bobby Frankel.

The connections of Blue Burner, Roger E., and Mr. John have now all expressed an interest in the Donn. Free of Love had his name pulled from the entries for Monday's $46,000 allowance feature on Saturday and was immediately pointed for the Grade 1 Donn by trainer Rick Violette once Violette learned Lido Palace was not coming to town.

Trainer Bill Mott said in all likelihood Blue Burner would go in the Donn.

"We had him nominated both here and in New Orleans," Mott said, referring to the March 2 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds. "But now that Lido Palace is not coming for the Donn, we're leaning a lot more towards running in the race."

Mott had planned on working Blue Burner at Payson Park on Monday morning but postponed the work until Tuesday because of overnight rain.

Blue Burner outgamed Puzzlement to win a third-level allowance race here on Jan. 25, his first start since having a chip removed from his knee following an 11th-place finish in last year's Kentucky Derby. Blue Burner was second to Harlan's Holiday, now the starting highweight and likely favorite in the Donn, in the 2002 Florida Derby.

The likely field for the Donn with riders as of Monday consisted of Harlan's Holiday (John Velazquez), Blue Burner (Jerry Bailey), Free of Love (Pat Day), Windsor Castle (Eibar Coa), Bonus Pack (Earlie Fires), Hero's Tribute (Edgar Prado), Mr. John (Mark Guidry), Saint Verre (Cornelio Velasquez), Puzzlement (Jose Santos), Roger E. (undecided), and Keats (Jorge Chavez).

Trainer Tom Proctor had the Donn penciled in for Bonus Pack regardless of Lido Palace's status but felt a whole lot better about his chances once he learned Lido Palace was staying home next weekend.

"We were pretty much going anyway, but it makes you feel a whole lot better when a horse like that is taken out of the race," said Proctor.

Bonus Pack finished second behind Harlan's Holiday under money allowance conditions earlier this month, matching his career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 108.

Strength Within Tampa Bay-bound

Proctor was pleased with the performance of his lightly raced 3-year-old Strength Within, who ran second behind Lion Tamer in Saturday's Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes.

"I thought we were taking a little shot running him in the Hutcheson off a maiden win," said Proctor. "But I felt if Lion Tamer ran like everybody expected and drew off like he did, the rest of the field might just stagger in behind him and we might pass the rest of them. And that's exactly what happened."

"We'll probably try Strength Within in the Tampa Bay Derby next. We've got to take the next step up, and while I could stretch him out in an allowance race, I think we can make a little money with him over the next couple of months."

Rouvres captures U.S. debut

Rouvres, a Group 1 winner in France, launched his U.S. career with a 1 1/4-length victory over a stakes-caliber allowance field at Gulfstream on Monday.

With Jerry Bailey aboard, Rouvres settled just off the early pace of Rakoon and Krieger, overtook the leaders near midstretch, and gradually edged clear. Rakoon, at 50-1 the longest price in the field, dug in gamely through the final 70 yards to outlast Krieger by a head for second money.

Mr. Livingston, a multiple stakes winner making his first start since May 25, finished fourth. The previously undefeated Byzantium, a Group 1 winner in his native Brazil, finished a disappointing fifth.

Rouvres covered about 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.77 over a firm course and returned $4 as the favorite. Rouvres is owned by the legendary French horseman Alec Head, who was on hand for the race, and is trained by Christophe Clement.

"I am very happy," said Clement. "He came back and ran well. We'll wait and see how he comes out of this race before making a decision on where he'll go next."

Clement ruled out Gulfstream's Grade 2 Pan American Handicap for Rouvres's next start, but said Fair Grounds's Grade 2 Explosive Bid Handicap on Mar. 23 could be the next objective."

Shuman ties Mott's record

Mark Shuman tied Bill Mott's record for most wins by a trainer, 39, at a Gulfstream meet when Highway Prospector ($14) rallied up the rail to win Sunday's ninth race. Shuman, who trains privately for Michael Gill, won his 39th race on the 36th day of the meet.

In Sunday's third race, Shuman won his 38th of the meet with Alicia ($3.40). That broke an 0-for-19 skid for Shuman.

Shuman had a chance to break the record Sunday, but Sardaukar could only manage third in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap. Shuman runners went 0 for 2 on Monday.

Mott set the record in 1996 when Gulfstream ran a 64-day meet.

Best Turn next for Super Fuse

Super Fuse, who passed the Hutcheson after turning in a dull work over this track a week before the race, will head for Aqueduct this week to make his next start in Saturday's Best Turn Stakes.

Super Fuse finished a disappointing fifth as the favorite in the Grade 3 Spectacular Bid Stakes here opening day then rebounded with a game victory in Tampa Bay's Pasco Stakes.

Trainer Richard Ciardullo returned Super Fuse to Calder last week, where he worked four furlongs in 50 seconds on Saturday.

"He worked as good as ever back at Calder, and I'm convinced he just doesn't like the track here at Gulfstream," Ciardullo said on Monday.

Nothing to Lose worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 here Monday in preparation for his role as the favorite in Friday's $100,000 Palm Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf.

Grade 1 females back to work

Grade 1 stakes winners Take Charge Lady and Summer Colony put in their first workouts of the year Sunday morning at Gulfstream Park.

Take Charge Lady, whose six stakes victories last year included the Ashland and Spinster, went three furlongs in 36.80 seconds, the third fastest of seven works at the distance. Trainer Ken McPeek has targeted the $500,000 Apple Blossom on April 5 as Take Charge Lady's first objective.

"She went faster than I thought she would," McPeek said. "She's doing fine."

Take Charge Lady raced last in the Great State Challenge Distaff on Dec. 7 at Sam Houston, a race she won handily.

Meanwhile, Summer Colony, the only horse to beat Azeri last year and whose four stakes wins included the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Handicap, went three furlongs in 37 seconds on Sunday.

It was her first significant activity since she finished last in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Trainer Mark Hennig said he is taking his time with Summer Colony and does not have a race in mind for her return. Some of Summer Colony's long-term goals are likely to include the Delaware Handicap and Personal Ensign, both run at 10 furlongs, and both races she won a year ago.

"Last year she went to California in February and ran all year," Hennig said. "I want to keep her a little fresher till the summer. There are not a whole lot of races at distances she cares for until the summer."

Summer Colony has been training with a protective cup over her left eye, in which she contracted a fungal infection while resting at Payson Park earlier this winter.

- additional reporting by David Grening