01/01/2002 1:00AM

Dowd returns with some unproven talent


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - He played golf, vacationed with his family, and attended a few horse sales. Now that his four-month suspension is over, trainer John Dowd is ready to get back to work.

Dowd is back at Gulfstream Park, where a year ago he won the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth with Songandaprayer, who would not win another race and who is now retired at Marablue Farm in Reddick, Fla.

Dowd has five horses here, led by the stakes-winning filly Astrid, who won the Lady's Secret at Monmouth and finished fourth in the Monmouth Oaks before having surgery to take care of some ankle chips. Dowd also has some unproven 3-year-olds that he can only hope will give him the same thrill Songandaprayer did a year ago.

Among the colts Dowd is looking forward to running are Spider, a son of Dehere, and Babson, a son of Boston Harbor. He is also high on a filly named Sidney's Kiss, a daughter of Boston Harbor.

"We've got a couple of nice [3-year-olds] I did not get a chance to run that I think could be okay," Dowd said. "They haven't done nowhere near what Songandaprayer had done at this point last year, but all three show a lot of talent."

Dowd trains primarily for Bobby Hurley, the former All-America point guard at Duke who found immediate success in the Thoroughbred business after shelling out $1 million for Songandaprayer. According to Dowd, Hurley has eight newly turned 2-year-olds for later this year. He was also the underbidder on several 2-year-olds of 2001 that have won.

"Bobby had pretty good success right from the start," Dowd said. "``Obviously, it's tough to repeat that. He's down-to-earth enough to understand how fortunate he was to come up with a horse like Songandaprayer. . . . It'll happen again."

Intriguing 3-year-old allowance

A year ago on opening day, Outofthebox won a second-level allowance race for 3-year-olds and instantly became a horse to watch on the Triple Crown trail. After finishing second in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, Outofthebox got hurt running in the Flamingo. He came back in the fall to win the Grade 1 Super Derby.

Thursday's opening-day card features a second-level allowance for 3-year-olds that may just yield another horse or two to watch. A field of eight was entered, but Judge Sez Who will scratch after running in Tuesday's Tropical Park Derby.

The two most intriguing prospects are Sneaker Mike and Blue Burner, both unbeaten after two starts. Sneaker Mike, a 3-year-old gelded son of Williamstown, was purchased privately by James McIngvale and trainer Pat Byrne after he won his maiden by 9 1/4 lengths at Delaware Park for a $35,000 claiming price.

In his first start for his new connections, he won a preliminary allowance race at Turfway Park by six in the mud.

"He probably didn't beat anything at Delaware, but he won easy enough and I thought he might be a horse we could have some fun with," Byrne said. "When we ran him at Turfway, the track was really sloppy and he handled that okay. He didn't beat that much, but he did it the right way. This will be a good step up for him."

The other interesting horse in the field is Blue Burner, a son of French Deputy who went 2 for 2 in sprint races at Monmouth Park under the tutelage of John Tammaro III. Owned by George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable, Blue Burner was transferred to Bill Mott and will make his first start around two turns. Jerry Bailey has the call.

Whata Brainstorm pleases Picou

Whata Brainstorm, last year's Pan American winner, seems fully recovered from an injury that knocked him out for most of last year, and trainer Jimmy Picou hopes his horse can defend his Pan Am title in March.

On Sunday, Whata Brainstorm worked five furlongs in 1:03.60, his second five-eighths breeze since returning from surgery to repair a chipped hind sesamoid bone.

"So far so good," Picou said. "The percentages with this kind of injury are good that he should make it back fine."

This year's Pan American is run March 23. Picou said he would look for some kind of race in February, but wasn't sure if that race would be the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap, a race in which Whata Brainstorm was beaten a neck last year.