01/02/2003 12:00AM

Hook and Ladder won't run

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Saturday's Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Handicap lost its defending champion and marquee attraction when Hook and Ladder was forced to pass the race because of a throat ailment.

"He's had a coughing problem for a couple of days and when I scoped him it really looked like something pretty angry is going on in there," said John Kimmel, a former veterinarian, who trains Hook and Ladder for Chester and Mary Broman. "This is very disheartening and couldn't have come at a worse time because he was training beautifully, and physically he's been going very sound. He's always done so well running off Payson Park and I was really looking forward to getting going and having a big year out of him."

Hook and Ladder would have been the odds-on favorite to defend his title in the Mr. Prospector. Now 6, the son of Dixieland Band posted a career-best 111 Beyer Speed Figure rallying to a 3 1/4-length victory in the 2002 Mr. Prospector.

Hook and Ladder has won 4 of 5 starts over the Gulfstream strip. His only defeat came in the 2002 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship Handicap, in which he stopped badly and finished last as the even-money favorite.

"He suffered an entrapped epiglottis in that race, which is where all this trouble with his throat started," said Kimmel. "Right now I'd say his future is indefinite until we can get a line on what's causing his problems, although I'm hoping it's something that's treatable and not a problem we'll have to deal with invasively. I'd really like to keep him in training and get him to the Deputy Minister and Sprint Championship later in the meet."

Hook and Ladder isn't the only key contender who will miss the Mr. Prospector. Trainer Paul McGee decided to skip the six-furlong race with Dream Run. He will wait for the 1 1/16-mile Hal's Hope Handicap next Saturday after discovering Dream Run had a minor lung infection following a workout on Dec. 24.

"The lung infection was one reason we passed the Mr. Prospector," said assistant trainer Randy Martin, who is overseeing the 18 horses McGee has stabled at Gulfstream this winter.

"Paul and the owner [John D. Murphy] also decided they want to try to stretch him out this year since there are so many more opportunities going two turns. The Hal's Hope provides the opportunity to see exactly where we stand with him going a distance of ground and also gives him an extra week to recuperate from the lung infection."

Dream Run, who worked six furlongs in 1:16 at Gulfstream on Thursday, won his most important race here last spring, the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship, which he took by 1 1/2 lengths over Binthebest and Burning Roma.

The Hal's Hope, named in honor of the upset winner of the 2000 Florida Derby who died suddenly last summer, appears to be coming up strong. Among the others expected for the race are Harlan's Holiday, American Style, and, possibly, Private Ryan.

American Style goes five furlongs in 59.60

Trainer Nick Zito confirmed American Style for the Hal's Hope shortly after his horse worked five furlongs in 59.60 at Gulfstream on Tuesday.

American Style closed out his 3-year-old campaign by finishing eighth in Churchill Downs's Grade 2 Clark Handicap.

"It just shows you that racing is getting tougher and tougher all the time," said Zito. "If you had told me they'd have gotten together a field of horses like they had for the Clark at that time of the season I wouldn't have believed it."

Lido Palace won the Clark followed by Crafty Shaw and Hero's Tribute.

Zito also said he is pointing Nothing Flat for the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 25. Nothing Flat finished third in the Grade 1 Travers and fourth in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at 3.

"He got sick in New York so I'm hoping to get a prep into him before the Sunshine Classic," Zito said.

Come rain or come shine, Allamerican Bertie

Trainer Steve Flint surely wouldn't mind if rain forced the $100,000 Honey Fox Handicap off the grass Sunday. After all, his stable star, Allamerican Bertie, just won her last start, the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap, on the dirt at Churchill Downs.

But Flint also doesn't care if the Honey Fox, a Grade 3 race at 1 1/16 miles, stays on grass. In her grass debut, a prep for the Falls City, Allamerican Bertie was sensational, winning off by eight lengths over a group of stakes-proven fillies and mares.

"Her last two races were both super, so it doesn't really matter what happens," said Flint. "Obviously, you'd probably eliminate some of your tougher grass mares if it comes off, but the way she ran on the grass at Churchill, that's another avenue that's been opened to us."

The Honey Fox appears to be coming up a particularly tough race, with Christophe Clement planning to run either or both of his highweighted mares, Amonita and Calista. Trainer Marty Wolfson also may run as many as three in the race, and other probables include Mystic Lady, San Dare, Wander Mom, and Remediate.

The Sunday co-feature is the $65,000 Dame Mysterieuse Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Racing secretary Dave Bailey said he expects eight to 10 for the five-furlong dirt race.

Plesa and Olivares share the glory

Eddie Plesa Jr. and Luis Olivares finished in a dead heat for training honors at the 2002-2003 Tropical-at-Calder meet, ending the meet with 22 winners apiece. Defending champion Bill White finished in a tie for second with Angel Salinas, three behind the leaders.

"In a way I'm glad we wound up tied," said Plesa. "It means just as much to tie as not. Luis and I are both Calder veterans, we've both been here from the beginning, and it's nice to share the title with someone I have so much in common with."

Cornelio Velasquez successfully defended his Tropical jockey title, giving him a sweep of both the Calder and Tropical crowns for the second consecutive year.

Ferris Allen tries south Florida

One of the perennial leading trainers on the Maryland-Virginia circuit, Ferris Allen, has shipped a string of runners to south Florida for the first time.

Allen sent 10 horses to the new Palm Meadows training facility under the care of Paul McClelland, who formerly trained on his own. Allen will stay primarily in Maryland during the winter.

"They're mostly grass horses that'll probably run in allowance races," said McClelland.

Allen, 51, is a former schoolteacher who has been training since 1975. In 1999, he led all trainers on the Maryland circuit with 86 wins, and he is the all-time leading trainer at Colonial Downs in Virginia.

* Jockey Jeremy Beasley was not seriously injured but was held overnight for observation at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood after he fell from his mount, Wild Cyrina, in Thursday's third race at Calder. Beasley was pitched over Wild Cyrina's head when she stumbled leaving the starting gate. Beasley hit the ground head first but was able to walk to the ambulance.

* Apprentice Shannon Uske won the first race of her career aboard her first mount, guiding Lilah to an easy victory in Thursday's 10th race at Calder. Lilah is owned by Hobeau Farm and trained by Allen Jerkens.

"This is so exciting. I can't believe it," said the 16-year-old Uske. "This is the biggest thrill of my life."

- additional reporting by Marty McGee