03/28/2007 12:00AM

Matz in underdog role with Chelokee


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - A year ago, trainer Michael Matz went into the $1 million Florida Derby with everybody's favorite, Barbaro, who overcame a bad post to win as a prelude to his memorable performance in the Kentucky Derby.

On Saturday, Matz returns to the Grade 1 Florida Derby not with the favorite but with the promising outsider Chelokee. A relatively inexperienced son of Cherokee Run, Chelokee will attempt to earn Matz not only another big payday, but also a return trip to Churchill Downs.

"Obviously last year we went into this race knowing we had a very good chance both to win as well as to go on to the Kentucky Derby with Barbaro," said Matz. "This time it's a different story. Chelokee has been a very consistent horse other than his first start and is coming off a nice effort in his last start, yet he's also taking a very big step up on Saturday. But we're here, he's doing very well, and there aren't very many two-other-than allowance races around for 3-year-olds this time of year, so we're going to take a chance."

Matz said Chelokee would probably have to finish first or second on Saturday for him to even start thinking about winning the Kentucky Derby a second straight time.

"I would love to go back to the Derby and I'm really looking forward to this race, but if he doesn't make it to the Kentucky Derby there are plenty of other derbies around where we can go with him and do well," said Matz. "There's not a whole lot of pressure on us this time, although to tell the truth, even though we had the favorite last year, Barbaro was just so good he never made you feel any pressure when he ran."

Pletcher stacked as usual

Even when he's not here, Todd Pletcher casts a big shadow over Gulfstream Park.

Pletcher, who departed south Florida for New York on Monday before leaving with his mother and aunt for Dubai the following day, not only will be represented by favored Scat Daddy in the Florida Derby, but will also have major contenders in each of the four stakes to be run on the Saturday undercard at Gulfstream.

Perhaps the best chance for the Pletcher stable will come in the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap: A.P. Arrow, coming off solid efforts against Invasor and Corinthian, figures as a solid favorite.

Other Pletcher prospects include Safari Queen and Almonsoon for the Grade 3 Orchid Handicap, Ramazutti for the Grade 3 Pan American Handicap, and Our Sacred Honor for the Aventura Stakes.

Although the Florida Derby field was drawn Wednesday, entries for the rest of the 13-race Saturday card were to be drawn Thursday. Here is a rundown of those undercard events:

* $150,000 Skip Away: A.P. Arrow, third in the Donn Handicap to Invasor four weeks before finishing third to Corinthian in the March 3 Gulfstream Park Handicap, will be the 117-pound highweight in the 1 1/8-mile race. A.P. Arrow, a 5-year-old horse by A.P. Indy, earned identical 106 Beyer Speed Figures in both races.

At least eight older horses, and maybe a couple more, were likely to be entered for the Skip Away, according to Gulfstream racing secretary David Bailey. The other probable starters are Noble Causeway, Dry Martini, Rehoboth, Touched by Madness, Halos Sailing Sain, Political Force, and Tap Dancing Mauk.

* $150,000 Orchid: Royal Highness, who beat Safari Queen by two lengths in winning the Grade 3 The Very One on Feb. 25 as the even-money favorite, should be a strong choice again in this 1 1/2-mile turf fixture.

At least seven fillies and mares are likely for the Orchid, which will have Royal Highness, with Edgar Prado riding again for trainer Christophe Clement, as the 121-pound highweight. Besides the Pletcher duo of Safari Queen and Almonsoon, the others likely to run are La Dolce Vita, Moon Berry, Moon Dolly, and Time On.

* $150,000 Pan American: Jambalaya, a rallying winner of the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Turf Handicap in his last start, will be the 120-pound highweight in the Pan Am, which also is run at 1 1/2 miles on the turf. Others likely are Drilling for Oil, Dynantonia, Fri Guy, Hotstufanthensome, Interpatation, Murch, Ramazutti, and Revved Up.

* $175,000 Aventura: The lone ungraded stakes of the card, the Aventura is for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs. Several prospective starters who already have considerable stakes experience, including Green Vegas and Yesby Jimminy, will clash with up-and-comers such as Blue Bullet, Don't Fluff Withme, and Street Magician. About eight are expected.

Hal's My Hope out with cough

Another past Florida Derby winner, the Rose Family Stable, had hopes of winning the big one again Saturday with its homebred Hal's My Hope. But those dreams went by the wayside after the son of Halo's Image came down with a cough earlier this week.

"He was coughing and we scoped him, and there was stuff in his lungs and we had to treat him," said trainer Barry Rose, whose father, Harold Rose, built the family stable and won the Florida Derby in 2000 with Hal's Hope. "It's too bad because we were really looking forward to running him in this race."

Allowances anchor Friday card

The Friday before the Florida Derby used to be like the big-race "eves" at other tracks, replete with important stakes. But along with all the substantial changes that Gulfstream has undergone in recent years, the track has de-emphasized the importance of the day before its biggest day, and fans arriving here a day early will have to be satisfied with a pair of $48,000 second-level allowances serving as co-features on a nine-race Friday card.

The seventh race, scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on turf, appears very well matched, with perhaps Criminologist a slight favorite. The eighth race, to be run at 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track, looks like a decent spot for the comeback of Moon's Halo, who left off with a runaway win last summer at Belmont.

Gulfstream guarantees a $25,000 pick six pool every Friday.

Street Sense works before shipping

Street Sense, the 2-year-old champion of 2006, had his first workout since he captured his 3-year-old debut when he breezed a half-mile Wednesday in a bullet 48 seconds at the Palm Meadows training center.

Street Sense, a narrow winner over Any Given Saturday in the March 17 Tampa Bay Derby, is scheduled to be flown Saturday to Louisville, Ky. Trainer Carl Nafzger has tentatively scheduled the colt's next workout for Wednesday at Churchill Downs.

Bridgmohan still sore after spill

Apprentice jockey Jermaine Bridgmohan remains sidelined indefinitely due to injuries suffered in a frightening spill here last week. Bridghmohan, who had returned only a week earlier after fracturing a collarbone in another riding mishap on opening day, suffered severe gashes in his right leg in the latest incident.

"He's got no broken bones but a lot of bumps and bruises, and he's still pretty sore, especially in his leg," said agent Cory Moran. "I've been getting calls from trainers every day looking to name him on horses, but at the moment I'm not sure when he's going to be ready to return."

* Twin stakes will anchor a 12-race card here Sunday. The Lure, for older males, and the Magna Distaff, for fillies and mares, are both worth $75,000 and will be run at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee