03/13/2003 12:00AM

Goldfine swinging into big leagues


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Senor Swinger attracted the attention of some prominent people in the Thoroughbred industry following each of his two starts, both victories.

A sale of the horse to someone like owner Mike Gill, high-powered bloodstock agent Mark Reid, or trainer Nick Zito would have brought a potential windfall to trainer Mickey Goldfine, but in his heart of hearts, he hoped owners Bob Ackerman and Barry Golden wouldn't sell.

"Bob and Barry were going to take very good care of me," said Goldfine, who would have a received a high five-figure or low six-figure commission from a sale. "While that would have been nice, it would leave me with nothing. I was like, let's roll the dice and see what happens here, because I think he's going to be a really good horse. Even if he's not a [Kentucky] Derby horse, I think he's going to be a really good horse."

At the very least, Senor Swinger is a Florida Derby horse. He will be one of seven 3-year-olds lining up in the Gulfstream Park starting gate in Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby, a key prep for the May 3 Kentucky Derby.

Senor Swinger also is the first chance for Goldfine, 50, to break out from the shadow of his father, the successful trainer Lou Goldfine, for whom Mickey worked as an assistant for nearly three decades. Goldfine took over the stable in 2000.

"This is my shot right now," said Goldfine, who maintains a 10-horse stable split this winter between Gulfstream and Chicago where his wife, Jan, runs things. "Anything can happen, but I'm going to do my darnedest not to ruin it."

Goldfine has been around the racetrack since his high school days in Skokie, Ill., when he worked on the maintenance crew at Arlington Park. While working for his father, Goldfine helped train champion Shecky Greene and My Gallant - both of whom ran in the 1973 Kentucky Derby - as well as stakes winners Federal Trial, Wild Event, Barely Even, Come on Flip, and Explosive Darling.

"He's a good horseman," Lou Goldfine, a frequent visitor to the barn, said of his son. "He's a better horseman than I was. I wouldn't say it if I didn't think it was true."

Senor Swinger came to Goldfine's barn in July, but it wasn't until September when he started to show talent. It was at that time Goldfine had equipped Senor Swinger with a martingale, a piece of leather that goes up the colt's chest, through the D bit, and connects to the reins.

"He would gallop with his head up and kind of sloppy," Goldfine said. "It helped bring his head down and keep himself together and made him use his body more. You could tell the difference right away."

Senor Swinger won his debut on Dec. 4 at Hawthorne, rallying from off the pace to win by 6 1/2 lengths going 1 1/16 miles. Then the phone calls came.

Reid, who buys a lot of horses for trainer Bobby Frankel, had offered $500,000, according to Goldfine. It was a higher number than the figure Ackerman and Golden were expecting.

"I caught Derby fever a few years ago, so I said, let's see how far we can go," Ackerman said.

"As time went on we got more offers. If the good Lord wants me to race this horse," Ackerman hoped, "somehow, some way" the horse would stay with him. "I believe in fate."

A second offer came from Mike Gill in mid-January. But when Senor Swinger missed a Jan. 18 allowance race because of a respiratory infection, the deal never materialized.

In his second start, on Jan. 31, Senor Swinger dead-heated for the win with the stakes-placed Ten Cents a Shine, who looked like he was going to blow by Senor Swinger. But Senor Swinger fought back.

"When he took the lead at the quarter pole and he put his head in front and opened up a half a length or a length, Edgar [Prado] said he could feel him pull up," Goldfine said. "He had no idea what was going on."

Goldfine said he never intended to run Senor Swinger back in two weeks in the Fountain of Youth and targeted the Florida Derby as the colt's next start. Goldfine understands that his horse lacks experience and does not feel Senor Swinger has to win Saturday to continue on the Derby trail.

"If he's coming on and he finishes third and runs a big race and gets beat two lengths, I think that would be a really big race," Goldfine said. "We're looking for good things to happen. This is going to be a really good horse."