01/01/2004 12:00AM

Long-time aide enjoys success on his own

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BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Steve Margolis was little more than a cog in the Michael Gill machine when Gulfstream Park began its 2003 meet. As a right-hand man to trainer Mark Shuman, Margolis helped to oversee Gill's sizable string at the Palm Meadows training center while also training his own stable of four horses.

What a difference a year makes.

Margolis has returned to Florida from Kentucky with 15 of his own horses, not to mention a newly earned accolade that almost any trainer would envy: Breeders' Cup winner. As the trainer of BC Sprint winner Cajun Beat, Margolis is riding the crest of a career high and enters the 2004 Gulfstream meet full of optimism.

"I'd like to think we could win eight to 10 races at the meet, hopefully more," he said.

As much as any trainer with a medium-sized string, Margolis is looking to help fill the massive void created by the acrimonious departure of Gill and Shuman, who turned Gulfstream upside-down in their only full year in south Florida. Indeed, there are dozens of trainers just like Margolis who are eager to take up that considerable slack.

"I probably learned a couple of new angles about the claiming game from [Gill and Shuman]," said Margolis, whose 20-year re"""sume""" also includes lengthy stints as an assistant to Howie Tesher and Stan Hough. In fact, Margolis is still using a turquoise-colored horse blanket or two dating to his and Hough's years training in Kentucky for Bob "Country" Roberts, a former owner whose financial difficulties forced him to liquidate his equine holdings several years ago.

Margolis, a 40-year-old New York City native, is hoping to start the Gulfstream meet quickly. He will run Cajun Beat, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Padua Stables and John and Joe Iracane who was transferred to his care last May, as the heavy favorite in the $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap on Saturday, opening day of the meet. He also planned to have at least one other starter on the opener, and three more on Sunday.

"Obviously it depends on how the races fill or overfill," he said. "But I think if everything goes as we hope, I'll have 12 starts after the first [condition] book," which encompasses 17 programs. "We'll be in there as much as we can be, that's for sure."

On a recent morning at Palm Meadows, Margolis climbed up the clocker's stand to oversee a half-mile workout by Adele Lucille, a 4-year-old filly who was scheduled to run during the first week of the meet in low-level ($32,000) maiden-claiming company. Like virtually all trainers, Margolis has spent untold hours evaluating the capabilities and limitations of the animals in his care, and he knows realism is the only way to go.

"She's not much, but she should be able to win for the bottom," he said. "Then maybe get her through a never-won-two for a quarter. That's about the best way to get out on her."

Margolis also believes he could win a turf race or two with Gone Ballistic, a Gone West colt who recently won a maiden race on the Calder dirt.

"He's a grass horse, so we were really glad he got through his maiden condition because Gulfstream doesn't have maiden races on the grass," he said. "He's a really nice horse. We got lucky there because he should be able to win for a-other-than [allowance], if not beyond."

As with Adele Lucille and Gone Ballistic, Margolis has devised carefully crafted plans for the rest of his horses. Because as successful as Margolis was in 2003, he is taking nothing for granted, and is intent on continuing his forward push and not having to settle for being just a spoke in a wheel.