02/19/2003 12:00AM

Favorite far outside


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Todd Pletcher went into the post position draw for Saturday's $500,000 Donn Handicap knowing Harlan's Holiday would have to overcome his 120-pound weight assignment to win the Grade 1 stakes race. Pletcher came out of Wednesday's draw with a second and potentially more difficult obstacle to overcome: the extreme outside post, which Harlan's Holiday drew for the 45th running of the Donn, Gulfstream Park's marquee race for older handicap horses.

As expected, a field of 11 horses was drawn for the Donn, although the makeup of the starting lineup changed slightly Wednesday morning when Roger E. was withdrawn from consideration and Request for Parole became a surprise late entrant.

Despite drawing post 11 and conceding from four to nine pounds to the opposition, Harlan's Holiday was made the overwhelming 8-5 morning line favorite by track handicapper Chuck Streva.

Harlan's Holiday's chief competition figures to be provided by Hero's Tribute, Windsor Castle, Bonus Pack, and Blue Burner.

The remainder of the field consists of Mr. John, Saint Verre, Free of Love, Puzzlement, and Keats.

"Obviously, 11 wouldn't have been our first choice, but it wouldn't have been our last one either," said Pletcher. "Sometimes it's hard to figure how things work out. We've gotten bad trips from good posts, too. He's doing well and as long as he doesn't get hung out too wide around the first turn we'll be all right."

John Velazquez will again ride Harlan's Holiday, who is the lone Grade 1 winner in the Donn by virtue of his easy victory in the Florida Derby here last winter.

Windsor Castle benefited from a hotly contested pace when he rallied from the back of the pack to win the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap earlier in the meet. Trainer Frank Alexander is hoping a similar pace scenario unfolds in the Donn.

Trainer John Ward just hopes he can get a clean trip for Hero's Tribute, who finished fourth after getting blocked behind horses while racing along the rail as the 2-1 favorite in the Hal's Hope.

Niall O'Callaghan, on the other hand, is hoping nobody will run early with Keats, who has an affinity for the Gulfstream Park track and is extremely dangerous when allowed to relax on the lead. That's what happened when he defeated allowance company by two lengths in his 2003 debut here on Jan. 10.

"He's huge when he gets to the front and this is his kind of track," said O'Callaghan.

Keats finished 14th and last after setting a contested pace in the 2002 Donn.