03/02/2002 1:00AM

Grey Beard baffling Motion


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Two weeks after the Fountain of Youth Stakes, trainer Graham Motion is still scratching his head and trying to figure out what happened to Grey Beard, who finished a disappointing seventh in the Grade 1 race.

"The way Grey Beard ran, or actually didn't run, in the Fountain of Youth puzzles me really," said Motion. "Most of the horses I've started here at the meet showed they needed their first race and ran better the second time. With him it was the other way around. He's done super ever since the race so I'm inclined to think he just didn't handle the track. It was a little odd that day. In the back of my mind I'm thinking about taking another shot with him."

Another shot could mean running Grey Beard in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 16 or in the Tampa Bay Derby the following day.

"I plan to nominate him for the Florida Derby," said Motion. "I'll probably breeze him early this week and then make a decision. I always thought he'd like a mile and one-eighth and it looks like the field will come up pretty much the same as the Fountain of Youth with only a couple of other additions. After Booklet and Harlan's Holiday, the rest of us are kind of in the same boat, we've all won an 'other-than' allowance race. If you think you have a good 3-year-old, this is the time you've got to find out what you've got."

If Motion does decide to run Grey Beard in the Florida Derby he'll have to search for a new rider. Edgar Prado, who was aboard the colt for his allowance victory Jan. 9 and in the Fountain of Youth, is already committed to Harlan's Holiday for the Florida Derby.

Equality eyes Tampa Bay Derby

Motion has another promising but untested 3-year-old in his barn, Equality - and there is no doubt where he'll run next.

"Equality will definitely go in the Tampa Bay Derby, and Ramon Dominguez will be down to ride," said Motion.

Equality comes off a smashing 16-length entry level allowance victory on Feb. 11 for which he received a 97 Beyer Speed Figure.

"He ran a big number and did it easily but beat a pretty weak field, so it's hard to assess his last race," said Motion. "He's a big robust horse who needed his first race over the deeper track here. I've always liked him and we'll find out if he belongs when he runs in Tampa."

Changeintheweather works for Bell

Equality competes in the colors of the Pin Oak Stable, which also own the stakes-winning 3-year-old Changeintheweather, winner of Woodbine's Grade 1 Grey Breeders' Cup Stakes at 2. A homebred son of Gone West, Changeintheweather finished third, beaten a nose and head, under second level allowance conditions on the Fountain of Youth undercard. Trained by David Bell, he worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 seconds here Saturday.

Among the other notables to breeze five-eighths at Gulfstream on Saturday were Saarland (1:02.60), who is expected to make his next start in the Gotham Stakes, and Governor Hickel (1:01.40), who is readying for the seven-furlong Swale Stakes on Florida Derby Day.

Atelier returns Monday

Atelier, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff and a winner of half of her 16 career starts, will launch her 2002 campaign under allowance conditions in Monday's six-furlong feature.

Atelier has not started since finishing third behind stablemate Cat Cay in Aqueduct's Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap on Nov. 23. Trainer Shug McGaughey had originally thought about running Atelier in last Saturday's $200,000 Rampart Handicap, where she would have been up against the likes of Forest Secrets and Summer Colony, but passed the Grade 2 event for Monday's softer spot.

Atelier worked three furlongs in 36.60 seconds Saturday morning.

The $46,000 allowance race drew a field of eight, including Away, Curious Treasures, Superfines Luvey, Sunny Laugh, Marquest Jen, Elvi Gamble, and Superduper Miss.

Best of the Rest to Creme Fraiche

Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. has confirmed Best of the Rest as a starter in Sunday's Grade 3 Creme Fraiche Handicap.

Best of the Rest finished fifth, beaten less than six lengths despite racing wide throughout, in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

"It wasn't one of his better trips," Plesa said. "It just wasn't his day. But he's doing great since the race. He worked five furlongs in 1:00 earlier this week and I clocked him galloping out a mile in 1:42."

A field of seven or eight is likely for the 1 1/16-mile Creme Fraiche. Other possibles include Balto Star, Bowman's Band, Dancing Guy, Hal's Hope, and Rize. Windsor Castle, American Halo and This Fleet Is Due are possible candidates.