03/19/2003 12:00AM

Just Listen up against the 'Man' again

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Joseph Catanese III was hoping he would be able to work his turf specialist Just Listen an easy half-mile over the grass here Wednesday morning in preparation for Saturday's $200,000 Pan American Handicap. The plan was to follow the same basic training schedule that produced a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Mac Diarmida Handicap and a second-place effort in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap.

But just before 8 a.m. Wednesday the announcement came over the loudspeaker in the Gulfstream barn area that turf works had been canceled. Catanese was thus forced to revert to Plan B, which meant breezing Just Listen three furlongs over the main track after the second renovation break.

"I'd prefer to work him on the grass, because he's accustomed to it and it's a little easier on him," said Catanese. "But it's not that big of a deal sending him out on the dirt later this morning."

The announcement that the grass course would be closed on Wednesday was a lot easier for Catanese to take than the other news he received the same morning, that Man From Wicklow would indeed be among the starters in the Grade 2 Pan Am. Man From Wicklow dominated Just Listen and eight others winning the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap by nearly five lengths in his 2003 debut.

"I was hoping Man From Wicklow would be gone and out of town already, or maybe they wouldn't accept the weight assignment," Catanese said. "My horse is doing so good right now, and the five weeks between races is perfect for him. It's just too bad we can't duck Man From Wicklow."

Just Listen, 7, has been on the verge of winning big races throughout his career, although he has posted just three victories from 33 starts. Catanese took over training the horse for the first time during the latter half of 2002.

"He's going to get one of these races somewhere along the line," said Catanese, who earlier in the meeting sent out Follow Me Home to upset the Dame Mysterieuse Stakes. "In fact, we've even gotten a call from the people in Hong Kong inquiring if we'd be interested in sending Just Listen over for a race there on April 27. I doubt we'd want to be shipping a 7-year-old halfway across the world, but it's flattering for a little Calder guy like me just to get a call from Hong Kong."

The imposing presence of Man From Wicklow will assure a small field for the 1 1/2-mile Pan Am. Among the other confirmed starters are Macaw, Quest Star, Reduit, and North of Six. Mr. Livingston and Whata Brainstorm are also being considered for the race.

"We'll see who goes in there and then decide, although I was kind of hoping maybe to get an allowance race to go for him next," said Whata Brainstorm's trainer, Jim Picou."

Whata Brainstorm, who finished a tiring seventh in the Gulfstream Breeders' Cup, last ran at Fair Grounds, where he was beaten just a length after disputing the pace in the Mardi Gras Handicap, which was taken off the grass. It was the

first time the 6-year-old Whata Brainstorm had raced on the main track since his 2-year-old season.

McGaughey duo nearing 2003 debuts

Trainer Shug McGaughey sent out both Eclipse Award winner Storm Flag Flying and Saarland to work on Wednesday. Saarland was the first of the pair to breeze, going a half-mile in 49.60 seconds. Storm Flag Flying came out, as usual, following the second renovation break and worked five furlongs in 1:02. Both horses are expected to make their 2003 debuts within the next month.

"I'll work Saarland back the first of next week and then start making some plans for him," said McGaughey. "I still didn't want to push Storm Flag Flying too much, since it's about 150 degrees out here this morning. We're in no rush. There's still plenty of time before she runs."

McGaughey is pointing Storm Flag Flying for Aqueduct's one-mile Comely Stakes on April 18.

Hi Tech Honeycomb set for Orchid

Hi Tech Honeycomb turned in one of the better works on Wednesday's tab, going five furlongs in 1:00.80, after which she was confirmed as a starter for Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Orchid Handicap.

"We had planned on working her on the grass this morning - it's really more suitable for her - but she breezed super over the dirt and will run Sunday," said Helen Pitts, assistant to trainer Ken McPeek. "Manoel Cruz will ride her. The more distance the better for her, so the 1 1/2 miles of the Orchid should help her chances."

Hi Tech Honeycomb finished a troubled third behind San Dare and Tweedside in the 1 3/8-mile The Very One Handicap earlier in the meet and will encounter the same pair again on Sunday.

Pitts also said that Take Charge Lady, who worked on Tuesday, will make her 2003 debut in Oaklawn's Apple Blossom Handicap on April 5.