02/15/2005 12:00AM

Forest Danger fine substitute

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Forest Danger, ridden by John Velazquez, sets a Gulfstream track record for 6 1/2 furlongs Monday.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Speightstown left trainer Todd Pletcher some big and very fast shoes to fill after retiring following his Eclipse Award-winning season last year. But Pletcher appears to have a worthy candidate to replace Speightstown at the top of the sprint division after watching Forest Danger return from a nine-month vacation to demolish a strong field of high-level optional claiming rivals while setting a track record Monday at Gulfstream Park.

Despite not having started since suffering a hairline fracture of a rear leg coming out of the Grade 3 Withers last April, Forest Danger cruised to a 9 1/2-length victory over the up-and-coming Primary Suspect as well as the stakes-caliber Vinemeister and Choose. His final time of 1:14.44 shattered the 6 1/2-furlong track mark of 1:15.60 set by Medallist nine days earlier in the Deputy Minister Handicap, even with jockey John Velazquez throttling down on Forest Danger in late stretch with the outcome no longer in doubt.

"That was pretty good," Pletcher said matter of factly in the winner's circle after the race. "Hopefully we've found Speightstown's replacement for the year."

Forest Danger broke the track record of the only horse to have beaten him in five career starts. Medallist won the 2004 Withers with Forest Danger finishing a tiring second after contesting a blistering pace. The pair was scheduled for a rematch in the Deputy Minister before Pletcher opted to scratch Forest Danger the morning of the race.

"He was training so well I gave a thought to running in the stakes, but decided I didn't want to come back off the long layoff with a burner if he got into a speed duel with Medallist," Pletcher explained. "His injury wasn't serious enough to need surgery, just time, and fortunately it appears he's come back as good as ever."

Pletcher said he had no plans mapped out for Forest Danger other than that the Grade 1 Carter on April 9 at Aqueduct was a possibility.

"He proved winning the Bay Shore last year he likes that track," said Pletcher. "As for how far he'll go, I'm not sure, although we'll probably experiment a little as we go along."

Society Selection faces 'Madcap'

One day after Society Selection worked five furlongs in 59.20 seconds, trainer Allen Jerkens confirmed she would indeed launch her 2005 campaign against Madcap Escapade in Saturday's Grade 3 Shirley Jones Handicap.

"She's training pretty good so we might as well get started," Jerkens said during training hours on Tuesday. "If we don't go in here she would have to work hard in the morning for the next one, and it's hard to get a horse ready to go a mile and one-eighth the first time out."

Jerkens was referring to the next race for older fillies and mares on the stakes schedule, the $100,000 Sabin Handicap the following weekend.

Although Madcap Escapade figures to go off the heavy favorite, Society Selection will concede two pounds to her as the 120-pound highweight in the seven-furlong Shirley Jones. Society Selection has won three Grade 1 races, the Frizette at 2 and both the Test and Alabama during her 3-year-old campaign, while Madcap Escapade's lone Grade 1 win came last season in the Ashland.

"It's only two pounds, which is only minimal," said Jerkens. "Not like the old days when you had to give 12 or 14 pounds some times. But I've been watching Madcap Escapade train and she looks beautiful."

Despite the imposing presence of Madcap Escapade and Society Selection, a field of six or seven is expected for the Shirley Jones and Jerkens was quick to warn it's not a two-horse race.

"Everyone is worried about the big two, but there are going to be some others in there who can run," Jerkens said.

Among them are Givememore and Alix M. Givememore was the champion 2-year-old filly sprinter in Brazil in 2004. She was purchased privately by trainer Ken McPeek midway through the season and concluded the year with a neck victory in Calder's Our Dear Peg Stakes.

"This will be a good test to see how good she is," said McPeek. "She's been pretty flawless up to now, and we need to find out where she fits against this kind of company. Eventually I think she'll stretch out and run well on the turf."

Trainer Ron Spatz remained undecided as to the status of Alix M, who upset Bear Fan in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint in her last start.

"I really want to back off her for a while, but she'll get an automatic break after this weekend since there are no spots coming up," said Spatz. "I also nominated her for the Barbara Fritchie at Laurel, but they gave her 122 pounds, the same as Island Fashion, so we're not going there. If we're ever going to beat fillies like Madcap Escapade and Society Selection, it would be now when they're both coming off layoffs."

Alix M will carry 115 pounds if she starts in the Shirley Jones.

McPeek's plans for prospects

McPeek has a barn full of stakes horses training in south Florida this winter. In addition to Givememore, he has a bevy of top 3-year-old prospects, led by Kansas City Boy, who finished second behind Closing Argument in the Holy Bull.

Both Diamond Isle, idle since finishing third in the Breeders' Futurity, and Wild Desert, who was third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, are gearing up to make their 2005 debuts. Diamond Isle is expected to return in a first-level allowance race on March 5, while Wild Desert could go next in the Tampa Bay Derby. Kansas City Boy's next start is slated for the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 5.

McPeek will also run Kristen Kristen here Sunday in the Gaily Gaily Stakes, Prince Arch in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap March 6, and Sweet Talker in either the Bonnie Miss March 5 or the Florida Oaks March 19 at Tampa Bay Downs.

Most of McPeek's stakes runners worked at Gulfstream on Tuesday. Wild Desert and Diamond Isle each breezed a half-mile in 48.40 while Sweet Talker went a half in 48.60 and Prince Arch five-eighths in 1:00.40.