01/31/2004 12:00AM

Newfoundland in the slop

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Wishful Splendor, Jose Santos up, scores a 1 1/4-length victory in Saturday's Suwannee River Handicap.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Newfoundland has been sitting patiently on the sidelines, waiting to run since the meet opened, and he finally got his chance after overnight rains moved Saturday's to a sloppy main track. He made the most of his opportunity, outgaming 2-1 favorite Millennium Dragon following a stretch-long drive to win the 1 1/16-mile Canadian by a neck.

Trainer Todd Pletcher entered Newfoundland for the main track only in the Canadian. He did the same for opening day's Appleton Handicap and last weekend's Mac Diarmida Handicap, but sunny skies kept Newfoundland in the barn on those occasions.

"I've worked him a half-mile every week for over a month, and he's been on the bench and ready to go just in case," said Pletcher, who trains Newfoundland for the Sumaya Us Stable.

Newfoundland hit the gate at the break and broke last in the scratch-reduced field of six. He recovered to stalk the pace down the backstretch, swung wide to engage Millennium Dragon into the stretch, and ultimately overtook the leader nearing the wire.

Millennium Dragon contested the early pace with Hard Buck, shook free leaving the backstretch, angled wide off the final turn, and just failed to last. Everything to Gain finished another 8 1/2 lengths behind in third, followed by Hard Buck, Justification, and Light Night.

Newfoundland, a son of Storm Cat who brought $3.3 million as a yearling in 2001, paid $7.40 after running 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.90 seconds over the wet track.

"I've really had no other options for him thus far, because I didn't want to take on those kind of horses in the Donn," said Pletcher. "He's a solid horse who has run some solid races and is very game. Once he's in a fight like he was today, he's pretty good at digging in."

Pletcher said the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap at 1 1/4 miles April 3 could be an option for Newfoundland later in the meet.

'Splendor' in the slop

Wishful Splendor also found the change in surface to her liking, capturing the $100,000 for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over the pacesetting favorite, May Gator.

Wishful Splendor, a 5-year-old daughter of Smart Strike owned by John Manganaro Jr., saved ground while tracking May Gator, then easily ran down the leader in midstretch to win going away. May Gator set the pace while kept well off the rail but proved no match for Wishful Splendor after fanning even wider off the final turn. Mymich finished third.

Wishful Splendor was ridden to victory by Jose Santos, who became available after his original mount in the Suwannee River, Madeira Mist, was scratched. She was one of seven horses who came out after the race was switched to the sloppy main track.

Wishful Splendor, the longest price on the board, covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:54.86 and returned $17.20. She gave Sal Russo, Santos' former agent, the first stakes winner of his training career.

"Actually, I was hoping this race would stay on the turf," said Russo. "The plan was to breed her to Touch Gold this season, but we may stay around for the next turf stakes, and then breed her."

That grass stakes to which Russo referred is The Very One on Feb. 28.