01/09/2004 12:00AM

Lots of heavy hitters pointing for Donn

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The $500,000 Donn Handicap is still four weeks away, but this year's renewal of the Grade 1 race has the potential to be one of the best in recent years.

Trainer Bobby Frankel confirmed Friday that he is "leaning towards the Donn" with , the Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up and one of the finalists for an Eclipse Award in the older male category.

"Our other option would be the San Antonio the previous week at Santa Anita," Frankel said. "But the Donn is a Grade 1 and worth twice the money, so that's the way we're leaning. I'll take a look at the weights for both races and see how they treat me before making a final decision."

Trainer Bob Baffert has also said he is considering the Donn or San Antonio for .

Both is also pointing for the race, pending the outcome of his 2004 debut on Saturday.

Frankel said he is seriously considering sending Midas Eyes here for the Sunshine Millions Sprint on Jan. 24.

"I also nominated him for the Classic out here," said Frankel from California. "I'll see who is going into the two races before making a decision. One thing we already know is that he loves that track at Gulfstream."

won the seven-furlong Swale Stakes by nine lengths here last winter but tailed off a bit near the end of the year, finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, third in the Cigar Mile, and second in the Malibu.

"He had the 1 post, and I think that compromised his chances in his last two starts," Frankel said. "Johnny Velazquez is trying to talk me into putting blinkers on him. I worked him in blinkers since his last start, but it's hard to tell what kind of effect they had, because he's not a great work horse."

Iron Deputy has minor setback

One prospective Donn starter who will not make the race is Iron Deputy. The winner of the Brooklyn Handicap, had a chip removed shortly after finishing third in the Grade 2 Saratoga Breeders' Cup on Aug. 16, and trainer Jimmy Jerkens had hoped to run him Saturday in the same allowance race that will mark the return of Funny Cide.

"We were pointing Iron Deputy to the same race as Funny Cide, but he came up with a little cough earlier this week and we had to pass," Jerkens said. "So now it doesn't look like we'll make the Donn. I don't want to go in there without getting a little prep into him first. We'll look for an allowance race around two turns once he's ready and then see whatever is available afterwards."

Jerkens said he would have welcomed the opportunity to run against Funny Cide. "It would have made for a nice little race," he said.

Maiden win bumps Shaniko up a notch

Last Sunday, trainer Todd Pletcher said he didn't really have a horse on schedule for the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, or one he'd call "on the Kentucky Derby trail." Four days later, after watching his trainee destroy a talented group of maiden rivals that included the highly regarded Eddington, Pletcher may be thinking otherwise.

Shaniko is a son of A.P. Indy out of the stakes-winning mare Sapphire n' Silk. He was purchased for $550,000 at the Fasig-Tipton sale in August by owners Aaron and Marie Jones. Thursday's outing was the third start of his career and first around two turns.

"We came down here with the intention of starting him right out around two turns, hoping he would show something right off the bat given his first couple of starts," Pletcher said. "At the moment, the logical step would be to run him back in a first-level allowance race, but we'll see how things develop. I wouldn't rule out anything at this point."

Shaniko's win was the first of two impressive performances Thursday by Pletcher-trained horses. The second was turned in by , who outgamed I'm the Tiger to win a third-level allowance. The pair covered six furlongs in 1:08.30, only .40 off Mr. Prospector's 31-year-old track record.

Alke, a son of Grand Slam, finished second in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at 2. He has won all three starts since moving to Pletcher's barn during the fall.

'Justice' gives Castro first win of meet

After being blanked during the first four days of the meet, Eddie Castro finally found his way to the winner's circle when he guided Code of Justice to an upset victory in a strong first-level allowance in Friday's fourth race. Code of Justice paid $61 despite having won her previous two races. It was her second win since being claimed by trainer Harry Benson for $40,000 on Nov. 23.

Castro easily won the 2003-04 Tropical at Calder riding title and is one of three finalists for the Eclipse Award in the apprentice jockey category. Castro lost his five-pound apprentice allowance last month.

McPeek has plans for Hard Buck

, a Brazilian-bred who is on the threshold of becoming one of the top older turf horses in North America, has a busy winter ahead of him.

"The plan is to run him in the [Jan. 31] Canadian Turf Handicap, then the [Feb. 21] Gulfstream Breeders' Cup Handicap," said trainer Ken McPeek. "If he does well, then it'd be on to Dubai."

Shortly after McPeek assumed Hard Buck's training last year for a partnership headed by Jose Carlos Carnevale, the horse finished ninth in the UAE Derby in Dubai. After being freshened, he won three straight turf races to end his 4-year-old season: the Tri-State Handicap at Ellis Park, the Kentucky Cup Mile at Kentucky Downs, and the River City Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Understandably, the Dubai target this year is the $2 million Duty Free on grass. The UAE Derby was run on dirt.

"Actually, I would like to get him back on the dirt at some point," said McPeek. "He's by Spend a Buck, so he should be able to dirt."

Friday, Hard Buck worked a half-mile in 47.40 seconds, handily, in company with stablemate Collateral Damage over a fast main track at Gulfstream. Edgar Prado was up.

Society Selection works six furlongs

, who has not started since finishing 10th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, worked six furlongs in 1:15.40 at Gulfstream on Friday. After the work, trainer Allen Jerkens said he is pointing her for the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes on Feb. 7. The Davona Dale is at 1 1/16 miles.

Society Selection suffered her only setback in three starts last season in the Juvenile Fillies. A daughter of Coronado's Quest, Society Selection defeated Eclipse Award finalists Victory U. S. A. and Ashado in the Grade 1 Frizette three weeks before the Breeders' Cup.

Eight more nominated to Holy Bull

Eight additional 3-year-olds have been nominated to the Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 17. All early-bird nominees to the Florida Derby are also eligible for the Grade 3 Holy Bull.

The late nominees are Twice as Bad, Play All Night, Stolen Time, Ghost Mountain, Caiman, Hitthegroundrunning, Hopefortheroses, and Tap Dancing Mauk.

Among the expected starters for the 1 1/16- mile Holy Bull are Silver Wagon, Second of June, Smoocher, Friends Lake, and Twice as Bad.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee