12/24/2002 1:00AM

Man From Wicklow goes after overdue victory in McKnight


MIAMI - South Florida's winter racing season gets off to a hot start, only not at Gulfstream Park, as one might expect, but across town at Calder with Saturday's Grand Slam II program. The 12-race card features four stakes, three of which are graded, including the $200,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap and its filly counterpart, the $200,000 La Prevoyante Handicap.

The McKnight and La Prevoyante are supported by the $100,000, Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper Handicap. The Hooper serves as a stepping-stone to Gulfstream's $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 25. The $100,000 Stage Door Betty Handicap for fillies and mares rounds out the Grand Slam II stakes docket.

A full field of 12 and three also-eligibles were drawn on Monday for the Grade 2 McKnight, at 1 1/2 miles on turf. Topping the list is Man From Wicklow, who has held his own against some of the better members of his division this past season.

Despite coming into the McKnight winless in five starts this year, Man From Wicklow will carry top weight of 118 pounds by virtue of third-place finishes in the Grade 1 Man o' War and Grade 2 Sky Classic. He will need another top effort to win in a field that includes graded stakes winners Rochester, What a Brainstorm, Serial Bride, Dawn of the Condor, Mr. Pleasentfar, and Williams News.

Jerry Bailey will have an opportunity to close the gap on Mike Smith's single-season record for stakes victories when he rides Man From Wicklow for trainer Rick Violette in the McKnight.

Bailey will also ride Mot Juste, the 118-pound highweight and likely favorite in the 1 1/2-mile La Prevoyante. Mot Juste's trainer, Christophe Clement, will also send out Julie Jalouse in quest of his fifth La Prevoyante victory.

Mot Juste hasn't won a stakes race this year but did finish third in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl and Grade 2 Long Island handicaps in her last two starts. She was also second last year in the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera at Longchamp.

Julie Jalouse, who captured Gulfstream Park's Grade 2 Orchid Handicap at 12 furlongs in her United States debut in March, hasn't been able to repeat that type of effort in four subsequent starts. She returns following a third-place finish in Hollywood Park's Waya Handicap.

The horse to beat in the La Prevoyante may be Uriah, who defeated Mot Juste when she rallied from last to upset the Long Island Handicap in her U.S. debut on Nov. 16.

Booklet's top weight an issue

Booklet, winner of Gulfstream Park's Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes earlier this year, and local leader Best of the Rest head a strong field of eight set for the 1 1/8-mile Hooper. Both horses are using the race as a prep for the Sunshine Millions Classic, as are three-time Grade 1 winner Sir Bear, Dancing Guy, and The Judge Sez Who.

Booklet was assigned top weight for the Hooper at 122 pounds, one more pound than Best of the Rest. Because of the weight, Booklet's trainer, John Ward, said he will not decide until later this week whether to run in the Hooper. Booklet is a 3-year-old whose only previous start against older horses came at the allowance level under 114 pounds.

Coolbythepool, who regained leadership of the local filly and mare handicap division with her victory in the Elmer Heubeck Distaff Handicap, will carry top weight of 121 pounds and concede her six rivals from seven to nine pounds in the nine-furlong Stage Door Betty.