01/07/2003 12:00AM

Goldfine's great gray hope

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - If not for a good-looking 3-year-old colt named Senor Swinger, Mickey Goldfine wouldn't even be in south Florida this winter.

But once again Goldfine is where he almost always has been in January, overseeing a string of horses in Barn 16 at Gulfstream Park. For many years, Goldfine served as the right-hand man to his father, Lou, who slipped into retirement in recent years without making a big deal about it.

"Dad lives right near the track in Aventura," said Goldfine, 50. "He still comes around a little and fools with the bills. He doesn't pay much attention to the horses - except for this gray one."

Lou Goldfine, 82, trained dozens of stakes winners in an outstanding career, and 30 years ago, two of his most memorable ones were 3-year-olds: Shecky Greene and My Gallant. Both made it to the 1973 Kentucky Derby, where they finished sixth and ninth, respectively, behind a chestnut colt named Secretariat. It was the only time Lou Goldfine had a Derby starter.

This year, his son is hoping that long odds will prevail, and that they will both wind up in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

"We're a long way from then, but this colt has the potential to be a really good one," he said.

Senor Swinger, a gray colt by El Prado, ran powerfully in his only start, winning easily and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 86 at Hawthorne in Chicago, where Goldfine makes his year-round home. Offers from high-profile trainers soon followed, but owners Bob Ackerman and Barry Golden declined to sell.

Goldfine said the first start at 3 for Senor Swinger will come Jan. 18 in an entry-level allowance route. Also to be run that day is the Holy Bull Stakes, which marks the opening of the Florida Derby series for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream.

"We'll nominate to the Holy Bull, but the allowance is the more logical spot for us," said Goldfine.

Partly because there are no superstars on the horizon in the 3-year-old division in south Florida, Goldfine is encouraged that, with just one big effort, Senor Swinger could be the type of horse to suddenly surface as a potential Derby horse.

"I was just going to stay home in Chicago this winter because the last couple of years I haven't really had a lot to bring down here," he said. "It doesn't pay to come down here if you don't have the stock.

"But when this gray colt won like he did, I felt like I had to come. He's really been training good, so we're looking forward to how he does down here."

Harlan's Holiday makes Florida return

The return of last year's Florida Derby winner, Harlan's Holiday, is the top story for the coming weekend at Gulfstream. Harlan's Holiday is expected to face seven or eight rivals in the $100,000 Hal's Hope Handicap on Saturday.

Harlan's Holiday will be making his fifth start since Todd Pletcher began training him. In his last start, Harlan's Holiday finished fourth in the Nov. 30 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.

Probably the strongest challengers in the Hal's Hope will be Dream Run, winner of the Grade 2 Gulfstream Sprint Championship last year, and American Style, who earned a 111 Beyer Speed Figure in an easy Keeneland allowance win last fall. Other probables include Private Ryan and Saint Verre.

The Hal's Hope, named for the 2000 Florida Derby winner, is a Grade 3 race at 1 1/16 miles. It formerly was known as the Broward Handicap.

The Sunday feature is the $100,000 First Lady Handicap, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares. Bruanna, Chispiski, and Haunted Lass could be the top contenders.

Allamerican Bertie better on dirt

After Allamerican Bertie finished last in the Honey Fox Handicap on the turf Sunday, trainer Steve Flint was relieved to know that nothing was amiss with his star filly, whose previous start resulted in a victory in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap at Churchill.

"She's fine," said Flint. "She just didn't handle the surface. She's just not as good on the grass."

Also Sunday, Flint saddled Red Hot Bertie, who finished second as the favorite in her career debut in the fifth race. Red Hot Bertie is out of Clever Bertie, making her a 3-year-old half-sister to Allamerican Bertie. Ridden by Jerry Bailey, she was beaten 3 3/4 lengths.

"She threw her right front shoe after a little stumble out of the gate," said Flint. "We're soaking her foot because she got a little sore after pounding it the whole way. She'll run again in about a month, although it'll be going longer, like the whole family wants to do."

Belterra begins serious training soon

Belterra, unraced since last summer, is nearly ready to breeze after being back at the racetrack for about six weeks.

Trained by Carl Nafzger, Belterra was one of the most highly regarded 3-year-old fillies in North America early last year. But she won just one race and was taken out of training in July after coming down with a temperature.

The other top filly in Nafzger's barn, My Boston Gal, is just taking it easy by going through easy gallops every day, said assistant Ian Wilkes. My Boston Gal, undefeated in three starts, will not race at least until the Bonnie Miss Stakes in mid-March.

Mandy's Gold back in training

Trainer Mike Gorham reports that Grade 1 winner Mandy's Gold is about ready to come off the farm and begin preparations for her 2003 campaign.

"We sent her to Ocala for a little rest but she's ready to start back," Gorham said. "She shouldn't take too much time to get ready and we'd like to run her here this winter since she's won several races over this track."

Mandy's Gold, once thought of strictly as a sprinter, stretched out to 1 1/16 miles and upset You in Belmont's Grade 1 Ruffian Handicap in September, then finished second behind Imperial Gesture in the 1 1/8-mile Beldame. She was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff before closing out her season finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Top Flight at Aqueduct on Nov. 29.

Mandy's Gold, a daughter of Gilded Time, earned more than $700,000 last year for her owner, the Steeplechase Farm.

While Mandy's Gold is not yet cranked up, Gorham will still be in action in the filly and mare stakes division when he sends out Bruanna for Sunday's Grade 3 First Lady Handicap.

Gorham claimed Bruanna, a daughter of Housebuster, for $35,000 at Delaware June 19. She returned quick dividends by winning her next three starts, including a pair of stakes, before finishing fourth behind Xtra Heat in the Grade 3 Endine Stakes in her 2002 finale.

"I claimed her in part because her half-sister won a stakes five days earlier, and I knew even if she didn't pan out she'd still have residual value as a broodmare," Gorham explained. "Now she's a stakes winner herself. Unfortunately she got hooked up in a speed duel with Xtra Heat in her last start and that probably cost us a chance for second or third money in a graded stakes."

Preferred Option takes a shot at stakes

Trainer Allen Jerkens is also aiming for the First Lady with Preferred Option, a speedy filly who has shown much promise but has yet to prove herself against stakes company.

"She's fast and she's won her share of money," Jerkens said. "She ran a pretty big race and fast number two starts back and we're just taking a shot on Sunday since the race doesn't appear to be coming up that tough."

Jerkens will also be in action Saturday when he sends out Saint Verre in the Hal's Hope.

"He's a hard horse to figure," Jerkens said "He's run some very strong races at times and he loves the mud if the track should come up wet on Saturday."

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch