01/19/2002 1:00AM

Monarchos third in his return to racing

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The much-anticipated 2002 debut of Monarchos proved less than triumphant, as the reigning Kentucky Derby winner finished a nonthreatening third behind Mongoose under optional claiming and allowance conditions at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

Monarchos was making his first start Saturday since he finished third in the Belmont Stakes on June 9. With regular rider Jorge Chavez aboard, Monarchos dropped nearly 10 lengths off a fairly leisurely pace down the backstretch, moved a bit closer around the second bend, angled inside for the stretch run but never menaced the winner while easily outfinished by 46-1 Watch Your Pennies for second money.

Mongoose, making his first start since being switched to trainer

H. James Bond's barn earlier this winter, stalked the pace, readily took command before six furlongs, and then drew off with authority through the stretch to win by 6 1/4 widening lengths under Edgar Prado.

"Great way to start out for a new account," said Bond of owners Gary and Mary West.

John Ward, trainer of Monarchos, said, "He had a little crease in his back after the race. The track is slow and on the heavy side and he got tired. But we got what we were looking for out of this race. I wasn't hard on him coming back the first time. I kept him pretty laid back. But I'll get serious in his next two works. He'll get into the game now. We're right on schedule for the Donn."

Ward has pinpointed the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 9 as the first major goal for Monarchos since his arrival here in December.

"It comes back a little closer than I'd like," Bond said when asked whether he planned on running Mongoose in the Donn. "But I'm not saying no. We also have Ubiquity, and I'd like to keep the two of them separated."

Snow Dance ready for De La Rose

While Ward's two big colts, Monarchos and Booklet, began their seasons on Saturday, his multiple stakes-winning turf filly, Snow Dance, is ready to make her 4-year-old debut in Friday's $100,000, Grade 3 De La Rose Handicap.

When put on the turf by Ward last summer, Snow Dance won five of six starts, including a trio of graded stakes. Her only loss was a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland. Before that, she won the Lake Placid and Pucker Up Stakes, and she finished her season with a neck victory in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 17.

The De La Rose will be Snow Dance's first stakes start against older fillies and mares.

"She's a filly I try to keep running on a regular basis," Ward said. "This is her first start against the old, hard-knocking grass mares. I think it'll take her a time or two to get her style to fit. She's always been a horse that wants to run to the front."

Snow Dance, who had been ridden by Craig Perret in four of her last six races, will be ridden by Pat Day in the De La Rose. At 119 pounds, Snow Dance was made the co-highweight along with Batique, winner of the Honey Fox Handicap here on opening weekend.

Haunted Lass will skip Forward Gal

Trainer Allen Iwinski had jockey John Velazquez breeze his newly turned 3-year-old filly Haunted Lass Saturday hoping to hear she was ready to make her debut in next Sunday's $100,000 Forward Gal Stakes.

But after Haunted Lass breezed five furlongs in 1:04, Velazquez told Iwinski he might want to reconsider those plans.

"She didn't finish up very good," Iwinski said. "I don't think she's going to be ready for it. I don't know where I'm going to run her now."

Haunted Lass won the first three starts of her career, including the Egret Stakes at Delaware Park. She last raced in the Grade 3 Sorority Stakes at Monmouth Park, where she finished second behind Forest Heiress. Iwinski said it was by design that Haunted Lass got the remainder of the year off.

The Forward Gal, run at seven furlongs, is expected to feature Round 3 between Forest Heiress and A New Twist. Forest Heiress beat A New Twist in the Valley Stream at Aqueduct in November before

A New Twist turned the tables in the Old Hat Stakes here Jan. 6.

Repent works for McPeek

Ten hours before sending out Harlan's Holiday to a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes, trainer Ken McPeek sent out his "other" Kentucky Derby candidate, Repent, to work a half-mile in 50 seconds here Saturday morning.

"It was just an easy half," said McPeek. "He's doing super right now and if all goes smoothly he should be ready to run in February instead of March."

McPeek has yet to pick out a race for Repent's 3-year-old debut. A son of Louis Quatorze who won three of five starts last year, Repent finished second behind Johannesburg in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile before closing out his 2-year-old campaign with a victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.

"Does he have any allowance conditions left?" McPeek said with a smile when asked when and where Repent might surface for his 2002 debut. "Right now I'm entertaining the idea of running him either here in the Fountain of Youth or at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star. His running style might suit that track better, although if I feel the Fountain of Youth is the best stop I don't see any dilemma running both he and Harlan's Holiday together. That's a good problem to have."

- additional reporting by Dave Grening