03/04/2008 1:00AM

Hey Byrn may get shot at Florida Derby


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Track announcer Larry Collmus may have summed it up best as Hey Byrn approached the wire well clear of a strong field of second-level allowance rivals in Sunday's third race at Gulfstream Park.

"This guy's for real!" Collmus exclaimed, as Hey Byrn put the finishing touches on his second straight impressive victory of the meet.

Hey Byrn, a member of the outstanding Calder 2-year-old class of 2007, gained instant renown when he returned from a 4 1/2-month layoff to demolish a highly regarded field of entry-level allowance rivals, including Bordeaux Bandit and Jockey Ridge, by 14 1/2 lengths on Feb. 10, earning a 97 Beyer Speed Figure.

Hey Byrn, a Florida-bred son of Put It Back owned by Bea Oxenberg, stretched out to 1 1/8 miles for the first time Sunday while facing a lineup that included the undefeated Alaazo, impressive allowance winner Sleuse, and Bordeaux Bandit. But after stalking a slow early pace under confident handling from jockey Edgar Prado, Hey Byrn drew away with complete authority through the final furlong to register a six-length decision over longshot Wonder Mon.

"It's really exciting to have a 3-year-old like this," said trainer Ed Plesa Jr., who has split his stable between Calder and Gulfstream Park this winter. "I know he got a big number when he won his previous start, and a lot of people came up to me and asked me if I thought he might bounce. But I wasn't worried because I knew he had been a work away from where I wanted him to be for that first race. And I was really pleased when Edgar told me after this last race that he had a lot left in the tank at the finish."

Plesa said he spent most of Monday morning answering phone calls from parties interested in purchasing Hey Byrn.

"I'm having dinner with Bea tonight and we'll discuss the situation," Plesa said.

Barring a sale, Plesa said his plan is to point Hey Byrn for the $1 million Florida Derby on March 29.

Gottcha Gold preps for Skip Away

Before answering all the phone calls, Plesa spent the early part of a rainy Monday morning watching several of his horses work over a wet-fast track at Gulfstream, including his handicap star Gottcha Gold, who breezed five furlongs in 1:01. Gottcha Gold, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, went in fractions of 23.80 seconds and 48.40 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:15.20.

"It was perfect," said Plesa. "Just what I was looking for. Especially the way he finished and galloped out strong."

Gottcha Gold will make his next start in the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap here on March 15.

Hunting, another candidate for the Skip Away, was also on the work tab here Monday, working five furlongs in 1:00.40 for trainer Shug McGaughey.

Walder does well with small string

The 2008 Gulfstream meet has already passed the halfway mark and Peter Walder still finds himself in the thick of the battle for leading trainer, even though he has only 27 stalls on the grounds.

Entering Monday's program, Walder was third in the standings with 16 victories, just two shy of perennial leader Todd Pletcher, one behind Nick Zito, and one in front of Bill Mott, Wayne Catalano, and Ken McPeek.

"I'm happy to be in the race this long but realistic to know I probably can't beat Todd, Zito, or Mott," said Walder. "But I have just 27 horses, and Todd and Mott have over 100, and Nick around 70. If I were to finish third or fourth it would be an achievement, because those guys are all either Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers."

There is one edge Walder might have over the others. He plans to stay here until the end of the meet, while Pletcher, Zito, and Mott will start sending the bulk of their arsenals north within the next several weeks.

"True, I'll be here until the end," Walder said, "but I'll also get a lot less aggressive placing my horses as the meet winds down because I want to protect them for when I head north after we close here."

Tagg's top 3-year-olds both work

Tale of Ekati worked five furlongs in 1:00.30 at Palm Meadows on Monday in his final prep for Saturday's Louisiana Derby.

Tale of Ekati is scheduled to fly to New Orleans on Wednesday.

Trainer Barclay Tagg also had another of his Kentucky Derby hopefuls, Big Truck, work five-eighths in 1:00.20 at Gulfstream the same morning. Big Truck is coming off a second-place finish behind Fierce Wind in Tampa's Sam F. Davis Stakes.

Appeal of stakes protest scheduled

A second appeal filed by Bill Zwerling, the owner of La Dolce Vita, protesting the official results of the Grade 2 Suwannee River Handicap on Feb. 3, will be heard on March 19, with former Keeneland president Bill Greeley to preside over the hearing.

La Dolce Vita finished second, a half-length behind Green Girl, in the Suwannee River. Zwerling filed his first appeal alleging the winner had not carried her assigned weight from paddock to post, in accordance with house rules. Green Girl threw jockey Rene Douglas and ran off briefly during the post parade and was also without a rider for the majority of the time she spent behind the starting gate prior to the race. Green Girl carried 118 pounds in the race, one more than La Dolce Vita and three less than highweight and favorite J'ray, who finished third.

The original appeal was heard on Feb. 15 by association stewards Chip Spencer and Jeff Noe, and Bernie Hettel, Gulfstream's racing operations manager and a former steward. Hettel sat in for state steward Kevin Sheen. The protest was denied by a vote of 2-1. Hettel cast the lone dissenting vote, according to track officials.

The Suwannee River marked the final start of Green Girl's career. She will enter the breeding shed later this spring. Green Girl is trained by Christophe Clement. He and Mark Hennig, the trainer of La Dolce Vita, were among the witnesses who testified at the original hearing.