01/12/2004 12:00AM

A lot less at stake this time

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Indy Dancer and Formal Attire had Kentucky Derby aspirations when they stepped into the starting gate for the 2003 Florida Derby. Ten months later, they square off again, this time under more modest second-level allowance conditions in Wednesday's $36,000 feature at Gulfstream Park.

Indy Dancer and Formal Attire finished third and sixth behind Empire Maker in last year's Florida Derby, and their careers have been pretty much on hold ever since.

Indy Dancer was taken out of training after finishing sixth in the Wood Memorial, returned to run fifth in an allowance race at Aqueduct on Nov. 1, and comes into Wednesday's allowance winless since his impressive 3 1/2-length entry-level allowance victory here a year ago.

"He had hind ankle surgery after the Wood," trainer Todd Pletcher explained. "We got him back for a race in November and that one didn't set up right for his style and turned out to be an extremely fast race won by Stockholder. There

wasn't much for him after that, so we just decided to wait until he got back to Florida to run again."

Indy Dancer became one of the leaders of his division after capturing his 3-year-old debut here on the second day of the 2003 meet, and Pletcher is still hopeful he will come back to that kind of form this season.

Like Indy Dancer, Formal Attire has started only twice since the Florida Derby, but he did win a six-furlong allowance sprint at Saratoga in mid-August. He returned four months later to finish sixth in the Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap at Calder.

"He came down with what seemed like a routine abscess in his foot, which turned into a real nightmare last year," said Phil Serpe, who trains Formal Attire for the Flying Zee Stable. "It was probably a little aggressive move running him in the stakes over at Calder, and this time we've chosen a little more conservative spot. We've got to see where we stand with him now. He's been training well since his last start and I expect a big effort on Wednesday."

Despite having Grade 1 experience, Indy Dancer and Formal Attire should not be considered the only key contenders in Wednesday's feature. The field also includes Strength Within, This Guns for Hire, Drill Hall, and Cointreau.

Strength Within may actually be the one to beat coming off perhaps the best effort of his career, a nose loss to Spanish Empire going 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs in his last race of 2003. Spanish Empire won the Louisiana Handicap at Fair Grounds earlier this month.