01/22/2004 12:00AM

Hurdles galore for favorite


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - He drew a bad post, is racing at the wrong distance, and hasn't started in 10 months. Man From Wicklow may still be the horse to beat in Saturday's $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream Park.

Man From Wicklow will break from post 12 in the 1 1/8-mile Turf. A long-distance specialist, Man From Wicklow will be turning back to nine furlongs for the first time since June 2001. He is making his first start since coming out of Keeneland's Elkhorn Stakes last April 23 with strained ligaments.

Man From Wicklow is the only Grade 1 winner in the Turf lineup and trainer Rick Violette is hoping class alone will help the horse overcome the obvious disadvantages he faces in his comeback.

"He's 7 years old now and you can only hope they return at that age with the same fire in their belly," said Violette. "But if he's in the neighborhood of being the same horse he was last year he can win this race."

Man From Wicklow held his own with the best of his division in 2002 but his only victory came when he captured the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder in his final start of the year. He opened 2003 with a convincing victory in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap, only to have what figured to be a big year cut short due to his injury in the Elkhorn.

"He's trained exceptionally well since coming down here and he should be tight enough," said Violette. "A mile and one-eighth isn't his best distance but he ran a huge race going nine furlongs winning his two-other-than. There's nothing I can do about the post but they've got a pretty good run to the first turn and that's why we pay these riders a lot of money, to sort things out and get a good trip."

Alex Solis will replace Jerry Bailey, who rides at Santa Anita on Saturday, aboard Man From Wicklow in the Turf.

Man From Wicklow's main competition could come from a couple of horses who ran in last year's inaugural Turf at Santa Anita, Miesque's Approval and Stormy Roman.

Miesque's Approval finished fifth behind Adminniestrator after being forced to await racing room into the stretch in the 2003 Turf. Winless in four starts last year but graded stakes placed on two occasions, Miesque's Approval should benefit from his recent fifth-place finish in the one-mile Appleton Handicap while stretching out to his most effective distance on Saturday.

Stormy Roman forced the pace into the stretch before finishing a tiring ninth in the 2003 Turf and was found to have bled during the race. Stormy Roman closed out 2003 by upsetting Music's Storm and Proud Man to win Calder's restricted Bonnie Heath Handicap.

Adminniestrator will be back to defend his title, although he will do so for new connections. He was claimed by owner Michael Gill for $80,000 on Jan. 4 at Santa Anita.