01/01/2003 1:00AM

Lukas, O'Callaghan among big guns loaded for bear


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The Gulfstream Park training colony is getting a much needed makeover for the 2003 meeting, which begins Friday. There are some new trainers on the grounds, but the biggest change is the presence of several powerhouse stables that were based elsewhere - at least in part - last year.

Returning on a regular basis this winter will be trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Niall O'Callaghan, each of whom has 29 horses on the Gulfstream Park backstretch. Mark Shuman, who had six stalls during the 2001 meeting, has returned to fill 60 stalls, with his stable split evenly between Gulfstream and the new Palm Meadows training center.

Lukas's former assistant Todd Pletcher has been a regular at Gulfstream since striking out on his own in 1996. Forced to split his potent stable between south Florida and New Orleans a year ago due to the close of the Hialeah Park stabling area, Pletcher is back in full force this winter with more than 60 horses at Gulfstream and Palm Meadows.

Mark Casse has not stabled at Gulfstream Park since 1980. But with two Kentucky Derby prospects in his barn - Added Edge and Gigawatt - he is back in town with 17 horses. Midwest regular Steve Asmussen, the winningest trainer in the country in 2002, and New York powerhouse Richard Dutrow have sent strings to south Florida for the first time.

The addition of these outfits bodes well for the meet, and couldn't have come at a better time.

"Last year we really got hurt because of the lack of stall space in the area," said racing secretary Dave Bailey, who struggled to fill races on a regular basis in 2002. "But with the addition of the Palm Meadows training center and the outfits we've attracted this winter, I have no doubt both the quantity and quality of our fields will improve."

The Lukas name is firmly etched in Gulfstream Park history as he has saddled the winners of two Florida Derbies, three Fountain of Youth Stakes, and one Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Conspicuous by his absence here last season, Lukas has returned with a strong mix of older horses and promising 3-year-olds - and an eye toward another Florida Derby trophy.

"Last year we just didn't have the numbers to justify coming down here while at the same time trying to get our program off on solid ground in New York," said Lukas. "But I've always liked the Florida situation, especially the 3-year-old program culminating with the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby."

As usual, Lukas has a barnful of 3-year-old prospects. The majority are currently stabled in California but Lukas has plans to ship several of them to Gulfstream within the next couple of weeks.

"We're deeper than people think with our newly turned 3-year-olds," said Lukas. "At the moment I'd say Scrimshaw might be the most likely candidate for the Holy Bull Stakes. Ozzie Cat is another possibility. Desert Warrior and Boston Park are two of our other 3-year-olds who'll compete at Gulfstream this winter."

O'Callaghan was a regular here in 1997 and 1998 but has spent the last four winters based primarily at Fair Grounds with a second string stabled at Payson Park. And while he has sent horses down to race from Payson, he figures to be a much more active player this winter.

"I like to lay up a lot of my horses, especially the ones in from Europe, at Payson, and for the last several years I'd been splitting my time between Payson and the Fair Grounds," said O'Callaghan. "But I've begun to tire of all the traveling and like the idea of staying in one place for the winter. The horses I have at Gulfstream have been running and we have a pretty good group ready for the upcoming meet."

Among the best are Hail the Chief, whom O'Callaghan has pointed for the Hal's Hope Handicap, and Wiseman's Ferry and Chamrousse. He also has some promising Europeans in the barn such as Della Francesca, third in the Irish 2000 Guineas, and 3-year-olds Ontario and Governor Brown, both Group 3 winners in Europe in 2002.

Shuman, a former assistant to Howie Tesher and H. James Bond, is now training privately for owner Mike Gill, whose stable has grown into one of the largest in the country.

"We've got 60 horses and we're here to run," said Shuman. "We shipped down early and claimed over a dozen horses at Calder trying to beat the Gulfstream rush. Now we're ready to concentrate on running. Competing for the trainers' and owners' titles is definitely in our plan."

Casse, the son of prominent owner-breeder Norman Casse, is hopeful 3-year-olds Added Edge and Gigawatt can become major players in the division before the end of the meet.

"The two 3-year-olds is the major reason I'm back," said Casse, "although my barn has a new look to it now. In the past I primarily trained the [Harry] Mangurian horses and took the winter off to concentrate on the sales. This year I have a lot of different owners and a different type of horse in the barn, including a lot of turf horses."