03/04/2002 1:00AM

Istintaj in drop for a win


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - A year ago Istintaj was the scourge of the Florida sprint division after winning the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector and Deputy Minister handicaps. But with six straight losses on his resume since those victories last winter, Istintaj will return to the allowance ranks for what could be a much-needed confidence booster in Wednesday's $46,000 feature at Gulfstream Park.

Istintaj was invited to Dubai following his two stakes triumphs here last season, and he finished sixth behind runaway winner Caller One in the $2 million Golden Shaheen Stakes. A son of Nureyev, he could do no better in five subsequent starts last season than a couple of nonthreatening third-place finishes in minor stakes at Pimlico and The Meadowlands.

"It took him a long time to get over the effects of the trip to Dubai," said Hennig. "Both mentally and physically."

Hennig hoped that returning Istintaj to the scene of his two brightest moments in 2001 would get him back on the winning track. But Istintaj was unable to muster a repeat of his impressive two-length victory in last year's Mr. Prospector Handicap, finishing a tiring fourth behind Hook and Ladder in this year's Mr. Prospector.

The competition will be a bit easier when Istintaj starts under allowance conditions for the first time in 18 months, although the six-furlong dash did draw four other stakes winners. Among them is Fajardo, who ran off three straight victories including a last to first tally in Ellis Park's Governor's Handicap during the summer of 2001.

"He seems to be training well for his return, but this is not an easy spot or his ideal distance," said Ralph Nicks, trainer Bill Mott's assistant, who has been overseeing Fajardo's training here this winter. "He doesn't have too many money allowance conditions left so it was either bring him back at a mile and one sixteenth, which might be a bit beyond his best distance, or start him short and hope he comes running at the end."

The horse to catch will again be Kipperscope, who set the pace but proved no match for the odds-on Hook and Ladder and ran second, three lengths in front of Istintaj, in the Mr. Prospector. In his last start, Kipperscope was a tiring fourth after engaging in an early duel while trying to stretch his speed 6 1/2 furlongs in the Deputy Minister.

Beware Avalanche and Gallant Frolic, both claimed for $100,000 earlier in the meet, Stormin Oedy, and Grangeville round out the starting lineup.