01/03/2008 1:00AM

Lynch enters meet on a hot streak for Stronach


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - At Gulfstream Park, Brian Lynch is considered the "house trainer" - the man in charge of the 74 horses track owner and Magna Entertainment Corporation chairman Frank Stronach has stabled at the Palm Meadows training center this winter.

But at Calder, Lynch is just another trainer - if, that is, you can call a guy with a 50 percent success rate just another trainer.

When the Stronach homebred Song Shan cruised to an easy maiden victory in Wednesday's getaway day second race at Calder, it closed the books on Lynch's 2007-08 Tropical at Calder meeting, and he won with 7 of his 14 starters. Ten of his starters finished first or second.

"I came out of Canada with a lot of horses ready to run," said Lynch after Song Shan's victory. "The weather at Woodbine was bad the last part of the meet so I just kind of waited to run here with many of our horses, and fortunately most of them really performed well."

Among the other Stronach runners to win at Calder over the past couple of weeks were the undefeated Kapazunder, who returned from a 17-month layoff to win a first-level allowance dash; Spring Waltz, a 3 1/2-length winner of a third-level optional claiming race; and Silk Candy, a daughter of Langfuhr who earned a 96 Beyer Speed Figure in an easy second-level allowance win in her south Florida debut.

"We've gotten off to a good start down here, and I have another fresh batch ready to go during the early part of the Gulfstream meet - including a half-brother to Ghostzapper named Holy Knight who is just about ready to run," said Lynch. "He looks like he's going to be a very exciting horse, and I'm really looking forward to getting him to the races."

Lynch said he is also pointing Sugar Swirl to the $100,000 First Lady Handicap on Jan. 13. Sugar Swirl has not started since Nov. 4, when she closed out her 2007 season with a three-length victory in the Very Subtle Stakes at Churchill Downs.

This will be Lynch's third year based at Palm Meadows with horses for Stronach. Lynch won 31 races from 135 starters in 2007.

"Everything seems to have fallen into place nicely for us, and I'm hoping we can continue our Calder success and have a big winter at Gulfstream," said Lynch.

Catch a Thrill wins meet opener

The last two years have been pretty lean for David Paulus, so after the veteran trainer saddled the first winner of the Gulfstream meet on Thursday, he was all smiles in the winner's circle.

The horse was Catch a Thrill, a 2 1/4-length winner in a $12,500 maiden-claiming sprint. Last early in a field of seven under Jose Lezcano, Catch a Thrill rallied along the rail on the turn, then angled out and overtook Ms. Luvjoy. Catch a Thrill returned $30.80 as the second-longest shot in the field.

"That was great," said Paulus, who two years ago at Gulfstream enjoyed a few moments in the spotlight, sending out 18-1 shot High Blues to a sixth-place finish in the Florida Derby. "In front of these people, the first race, it felt real good to win."

Paulus, a trainer since 1986, currently has a small string of horses at both the Palm Meadows training center and Turfway Park in Kentucky. He hit his career high in 2000 by winning 30 races, but he won only 5 races in 2006 and 9 in 2007.

"We also won a race on New Year's Day at Turfway, so we're off to a great start in 2008," Paulus said.

Catch a Thrill is owned by a partnership named, appropriately enough, the Catch a Thrill Partnership, a six-member syndicate represented Thursday by the only local member, Warren Hardison.

Commentator in Hal's Hope on Sunday

Commentator will attempt to rebound off several disappointing efforts when he stretches out to a mile in a field of 13 Sunday in the $100,000 Hal's Hope Handicap, one of two Grade 3 races on a 10-race card.

Like the Hal's Hope, the $150,000 Sabin Handicap, which drew six fillies and mares, is a one-turn mile. It is carded as the ninth race; the Sabin is the seventh.

Commentator, with Joe Bravo to ride, will carry 117 pounds and break from post 5. Commentator will be making his first start since a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint on Oct. 27. The 118-pound topweight in the Hal's Hope is Chatain, who will have Cornelio Velasquez aboard from post 10.

The Sabin drew the top three finishers from the Nov. 23 Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct: Mini Sermon, Lady Marlboro, and Golden Velvet.

Nick Petro Jr. makes riding debut

Apprentice rider Nick Petro Jr. didn't have one bit of traffic trouble in the first race of his career. That's because Springadoon, his mount in the third race on Thursday, trailed throughout by open lengths after breaking from the outside post in a field of eight.

Petro, 23, said he hopes to do better with subsequent rides. He said he has been an exercise rider "for the last five or six years" for his uncle, trainer Mike Petro. "I haven't gained any weight, so I thought I'd give a shot to making a career out of this," he said

Petro is the son of Nick Petro, a jockey who remains active and has ridden 1,773 winners in a career dating to 1982. Springadoon is trained by Mike Petro.

o Jockey Manoel Cruz, who was the leading rider at the Tropical-at-Calder meet that ended Wednesday, took off all mounts on the Gulf opener for unspecified reasons but was expected to return Friday. One of Cruz's scheduled mounts was Catch a Thrill in the first.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee