02/07/2002 12:00AM

Look for Red Bullet's best


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Traditionally, who is by Mr. Prospector out of undefeated Personal Ensign, is a Grade 1 stakes winner at the distance and is training well for Shug McGaughey. That's why he can win Saturday's $500,000 Donn Handicap at nine furlongs.

Mongoose, coming off three consecutive victories at three different tracks, appears to be improving with every appearance. He has the speed to stay out of trouble in a large field, and that's why he can win the Donn.

Hal's Hope, the Florida Derby winner here two years ago, appears to be back in top form after a frustrating 4-year-old campaign. He did not have the smoothest of trips in last month's Skip Away but ran well from off the pace. That's why he can win the Donn.

Graeme Hall has won over $1 million, which tells you something about his quality. His final three starts of last season were all smart performances. Coming off holiday, he should be sharp, and that's why he can win the Donn.

Best of the Rest has always been a talented horse, but his career has been compromised by injuries. He's training well these days for Eddie Plesa Jr., and that's why he can win the Donn.

The Donn, coming as it does early in the season when most of the horses are still fresh and eager, is almost always competitive. Saturday's 44th running, however, looks particularly interesting, with Red Bullet the horse to beat.

He has consistently run well against quality horses, and while he disappointed his backers in the Skip Away, he should be better for the experience, as trainer Joe Orseno was saying the other day.

"After pulling the muscles in his back last year," Orseno said, "we finally had him headed in the right direction in the Cigar Mile. He didn't need 11 weeks off at that point, but there weren't any suitable races for him until the Skip Away. I didn't overtrain him for the Skip Away, either. That, and his failure to change leads, led in large measure to the defeat. You've got to give [Skip Away winner] Sir Bear credit, too. He is a tough old horse."

Orseno says he is not concerned about the size of the Donn field.

"I'd rather have a full field than a small field because you're more likely to get an honest pace in a large field," Orseno said. "When the field is small, one horse with some speed can control the race and this can result in a surprise. As far as traffic is concerned, that is the job of the jockey. I've got a good one."

Orseno's jockey is Jerry Bailey, who will be seeking his sixth win in the Donn.

Four of Bailey's five Donn victories have come in the last seven years. He seems to have a knack for this sort of thing.

Incidentally, the stakes record for the Donn is 1:46.40, set in 1979 by Jumping Hill. Jumping Hill was trained by Horatio Luro, a master at pointing a horse for a race.

Luro had two winners of the Kentucky Derby, Northern Dancer in 1964 and Decidely in 1962. Both horses set stakes records winning the Derby.