03/13/2004 1:00AM

Honor in War set for first battle of 2004


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Paul McGee didn't have a horse for last year's Kentucky Derby, but he had a memorable first Saturday in May nonetheless. In the race immediately preceding Derby 129, McGee saddled Honor in War to a 24-1 upset in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.

McGee hopes to repeat that scenario in seven weeks, and Honor in War takes his first step toward that goal Monday at Gulfstream Park when he heads a 10-horse field in a classified allowance race at one mile.

Honor in War, a 5-year-old son of Lord at War, enjoyed the best year of his career in 2003, winning four of nine starts including the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap. He ran a superb race when beaten less than one length by Perfect Soul in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland on Oct. 4. He was preparing to make a run at the Breeders' Cup Mile, but a wrenched ankle forced him to miss that race.

McGee turned out Honor in War for 60 days and brought him to south Florida to start his 2004 campaign. Honor in War has worked four times over the Gulfstream turf since Feb. 18, and McGee believes he has him pretty fit for this.

"He's doing really good," McGee said Saturday morning. "I don't know why he wouldn't go out there and run a big race."

McGee, who is using this race as a stepping-stone to the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland on April 9, isn't worried about having drawn the outside post in this race. Both of Honor in War's graded stakes wins last year came when he was drawn outside.

The two major threats to Honor in War are Magic Mecke and Miesque's Approval. Magic Mecke cuts back to his best distance after running eighth in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap. He won the Pete Axthelm at 7 1/2 furlongs at Calder last December, overcoming a troubled trip.

Miesque's Approval has not won since taking a restricted stakes at Calder in November 2002, but he drops into allowance company for the first time since that summer.

Eddington fires Gotham bullet

Edgar Prado got up close and personal with Eddington, his mount for next Saturday's Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, by guiding him through a five-furlong work in 59 seconds Saturday at Gulfstream. It was the fastest of 16 works at the distance.

A stablemate of Eddington's broke off about 10 lengths in front of him, and Eddington easily went by him in the stretch. According to trainer Mark Hennig, Eddington got his last quarter in 23.40 seconds.

Eddington has raced a bit greenly in his two starts here, failing to switch leads properly. On Saturday, both Hennig and Prado said Eddington switched leads right on cue.

"He worked beautiful, I was very pleased with him. He's a very nice horse," Prado said. "He gave me no trouble at all; he came back and he wasn't blowing that much. I hope we see the same horse on Saturday."

This will be a whirlwind week for Hennig. He is getting married on Friday, will find out if he has a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender on Saturday, and leaves for his honeymoon on Sunday.

Saratoga County waits for Gotham

Trainer George Weaver scratched Saratoga County of Saturday's Swale Stakes and will now point him to next Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Gotham at Aqueduct. Weaver had said all along he was leaning toward the one-mile Gotham, but entered the Swale just in case Chapel Royal or Eurosilver came out.

Saratoga County would have garnered support in the Swale, coming off a troubled third-place finish in the Hutcheson Stakes last month.

"I like the five weeks between races; we had five weeks between the Spectacular Bid and Hutcheson, it's another five weeks to the Gotham," Weaver said. "It's not an emergency to try him at a mile. I don't think he's a Kentucky Derby horse. I know there are a lot of big pots at a mile and a sixteenth, and I think he's going to like the distance, frankly. I think I have a better chance of winning the Gotham.''

Weaver said Javier Castellano would ride Saratoga County in the Gotham.

* Spice Island, preparing for a start in next Sunday's Grade 2 Orchid Handicap, worked six furlongs in 1:11.80 Saturday at Palm Meadows.