01/29/2004 12:00AM

Millennium Dragon tries longer

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - A full gate is the rule in turf stakes during the Gulfstream Park winter meeting, which makes it a bit surprising that just nine horses were entered in Saturday's $100,000 Canadian Turf Handicap. Only seven will start if the race goes as scheduled on the grass.

Rain in the forecast both Friday and Saturday might change the complexion of the Grade 3 Canadian Turf, which features the 2004 debut of Hard Buck and the return of Millennium Dragon, who has already won the one-mile Appleton Handicap this meet.

Trainers Todd Pletcher and Allen Jerkens, obviously with an eye on The Weather Channel, entered Newfoundland and Justification, respectively, on the chance the race becomes the "Canadian Off-the-Turf," as was the case when North East Bound won it on the main track in 2002.

Should the Canadian Turf go as scheduled, it figures to come down to whether , who is undefeated in three starts since coming to this country from his native Brazil.

Millennium Dragon led throughout to win the Appleton for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who has eight victories from his first 11 starters at the meet. McLaughlin will also saddle Steadfast and True, a second-level allowance winner on grass earlier this month, in the 1 1/16-mile Canadian Turf.

"The two horses complement each other perfectly, and gives us a nice one-two punch," said McLaughlin. "The timing is perfect to bring Millennium Dragon back off the Appleton. And while he doesn't necessarily have to be in front to win, he's best on the lead. Steadfast and True, on the other hand, comes from off the pace and is doing quite well at the moment. He should be coming on at the end if somebody wants to run at Millennium Dragon early."

Hard Buck is perfect since being sent to trainer Ken McPeek's barn last summer. He will be making his first start Saturday since capturing the Grade 3 River City Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 16.

"I'm using the Canadian as an intermediate step and prep for the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap at a mile and three-eighths next month," said McPeek. "But he's doing very well right now, certainly well enough to win this race."

Others who will start if the race remains on the turf are Everything to Gain, who is a winner of his last two starts, French Charmer, Remind, and Light Night.