01/01/2002 12:00AM

For Gulfstream, now is the time

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Gulfstream Park's plans for major renovations to its plant have received a good deal of publicity. But as Gulfstream prepares to open a 90-day meeting on Thursday, the management's main focus is on the meeting and the present.

"We're going to rebuild; there is no question about it," president Scott Savin said. "But right now we're concentrating on making this an outstanding meeting. We are encouraged by the good business at Calder and our purses are up about a $1,000 a race over last year. We have more different trainers stabled with us this winter than ever before. Many stall requests were trimmed to accommodate new stables, which are committed to race with us through the end of the meeting on April 24. We're off to a good start because more Gulfstream Park trainers are represented on Thursday's opening program than ever before."

The stakes schedule has been adjusted in an attempt to keep as many good horses as possible in Florida that usually ship to Kentucky.

With the handicap division unusually strong, the Gulfstream Park Handicap purse was increased from $200,000 to $300,000 and the race was repositioned to March 30, several weeks later than usual. Savin is hopeful the new configuration will enhance the chances of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos and other stars to make the race.

"We are not as concerned about the 3-year-old division," Savin said. "They make themselves stars with ability.

"Monarchos is a good example. When he came here last winter he was unknown, but he began to win and showed his class by capturing the Florida Derby. We'll keep the Florida Derby in its usual spot on March 16 and will introduce a new race, the $250,000 Aventura on April 6, for late-developing 3-year-olds who may not be ready for the Florida Derby. "

In increasing Gulfstream's racing days from 63 to 90, Savin, who has a background as a horseman, says he is pleased to have the support of trainers stabled at Calder, who last winter provided almost 50 percent of the entries at Gulfstream. Savin says Gulfstream will have 10-race cards on weekdays and 12 races on Saturdays.

The Gulfstream meeting gets under way Thursday with the $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes for 3-year-olds as the feature. This is an interesting race at six furlongs, bringing together colts from different areas seeking to make a name for themselves.

Two who may have something to say about the outcome of the Spectacular Bid are Bog Hunter and Handsome Hunk. Bog Hunter, by Hunting Hard, won a division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder and more recently captured the Inaugural at Tampa Bay Downs. Between those two victories he was unplaced in the finals of the Florida Stallion Stakes, though he bled that day. Treated with Lasix, he came back to win and is considered in fine form by his interests.

Bog Hunter is owned by Nelson Jones of Galion, Ohio. Purchased as a yearling for $20,000, he has won 3 of his 6 starts. He is trained by P.J. Wilcoxsin and his wife, Debbie Thacker, who operate out of Ocala, Fla.

Handsome Hunk, by the promising young stallion Hennessy, won the Fort Springs Stakes at Keeneland this fall but finished third in the Hoosier Juvenile at Hoosier Park in Indiana. He came out of that appearance with a respiratory infection but has trained smartly in recent weeks. Like so many who trace to Storm Cat, he has good natural speed.

Handsome Hunk is owned by Fred Brei, who bred the colt at his Jacks or Better Farm in Ocala. Dale Romans is the trainer and Pat Day is to have the mount.