03/07/2002 1:00AM

Hook and Ladder excels on this dirt


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Hook and Ladder, who has been invincible at Gulfstream Park over the past two winters, will put his unblemished local mark on the line Saturday when he seeks to defend his title in the $200,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship.

Despite the presence of Hook and Ladder, who has won all four of his starts at this track, a field of nine was drawn for the seven-furlong race. Heading the competition will be Burning Roma, who will run for the first time since coming to trainer Bill Mott's barn, and Fappie's Notebook.

Hook and Ladder won all three of his starts here a year ago, including the Gulfstream Park Sprint, in which he led throughout before outgaming Trippi to post a half-length decision. It was the last race Hook and Ladder won in 2001, although he did finish third in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap and second in the Grade 2 Forest Hills before finishing last in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Hook and Ladder made a triumphant return to Gulfstream seven weeks ago, registering an easy three- length victory in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Handicap. He was entered in the Deputy Minister but was a late scratch when the track came up a bit deep due to rain.

"I don't think he likes this track as much as he loves training at Payson Park," said trainer John Kimmel. "Right now he's a real happy horse, his feet are feeling good, and I think he may be even better than he was last year."

Kimmel said Hook and Ladder doesn't necessarily have to be on the early lead.

"He can go either way. He doesn't have to be in front but he'll make sure there's pace in the race," said Kimmel.

Burning Roma, formerly trained by Tony Dutrow, will be making his first start since finishing second in the Grade 2 Pegasus Handicap at The Meadowlands on Oct. 19. This is his first attempt at seven furlongs.

"He's got a good enough bottom on him training at Payson and Tony told me he'd probably be pretty good going seven-eighths," said Mott.

Fappie's Notebook rallied from far back to outfinish Twilight Road by a head to win the Deputy Minister Handicap. He finished fifth in the 2001 Gulfstream Sprint Championship.

Twilight Road will be part of an uncoupled entry, along with Dream Run, sent out by trainer Paul McGee. Dream Run has won three of his four starts at this distance.

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