03/11/2004 1:00AM

Next chapter for 'Footnotes'

Fountain of Youth winner Read the Footnotes will be favored in the Florida Derby's field of 10.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Rick Violette will try to walk a fine line when he sends out Read the Footnotes as the favorite against nine other 3-year-olds, including Tapit and Value Plus, in Saturday's $1 million .

Read the Footnotes enters the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby off a hard-fought neck victory over Second of June in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth four weeks earlier. Read the Footnotes earned a career-high 113 Beyer Speed Figure for that performance, and Violette is hopeful his horse can win the prestigious Florida Derby without emptying the tank with another gut-wrenching effort just seven weeks before the Kentucky Derby.

"He bounced out of the Fountain of Youth well, and I'm going into the Florida Derby with scary confidence," said Violette, who trains Read the Footnotes for owner Seth Klarman. "It's a wonderful position to be in having the favorite for a $1 million, Grade 1 race and everything points to him. But he's still got to go out and do it, and in the back of my mind I'm still thinking about the Fountain of Youth."

The Grade 1 Florida Derby is the centerpiece of a 13-race program at Gulfstream Park that also includes the Grade 2 Forward Gal, Grade 3 Swale, and Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap. Post time will be noon Eastern, with the Florida Derby carded as the ninth race and scheduled to go at 4:20 p.m.

Read the Footnotes, a New York-bred son of Smoke Glacken, has won five of six starts. His only setback was a sixth-place finish in the Champagne Stakes, after which he underwent a myectomy to correct a palate problem.

Read the Footnotes will break from post 3 under regular rider Jerry Bailey.

Trainer Michael Dickinson is walking perhaps an even more delicate tightrope than Violette. The undefeated Tapit, trained by Dickinson, makes his first start since winning the Laurel Futurity on Nov. 15 after missing key training time this winter due to weather and a sore shin.

"This is not a race to win at all costs," Dickinson said. "We're not on target for March 13, but still on target to have him geared to peak on May 1. He's not 100 percent fit going into the race, and if we can be third I'd be very happy."

Edgar Prado will ride Tapit for the first time in the Florida Derby.

Value Plus has shown a world of talent despite having to overcome gate problems. He enters the Florida Derby off an impressive 5 3/4-length allow-ance victory going seven furlongs on Feb. 14, but remains a question mark at the Florida Derby distance.

"He's a tall colt who was a little awkward last year, but he seems to be over his gate problems now, although you always worry about it," said Pletcher. "He just glides over the ground and always trained like a horse who'll go long. I'm confident he'll be able to handle nine furlongs."

Pletcher was hoping Value Plus might be able to control the pace, but the presence of the speedy Frisky Spider might force a change in strategy Saturday.

"I'd like to be loose on the lead, but if he's not in front he'll be close to it," Pletcher said.

Sir Oscar, Friends Lake, and The Cliff's Edge are all eligible to improve off their 3-year-old debuts.

Sir Oscar came out of his fifth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth with his first loss in seven starts and a new trainer. Sir Oscar will be saddled by Marty Wolfson in the Florida Derby, and will race on Lasix for the first time after having bled "significantly" in his 3-year-old debut, according to Wolfson.

Friends Lake was a handful in the paddock before finishing a distant third in the Holy Bull, but has been schooled extensively by trainer John Kimmel in preparation for the Florida Derby.

The Cliff's Edge lost considerable ground when second as the 1-2 favorite in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 21. Trained by Nick Zito, The Cliff's Edge won a pair of graded stakes at 2.

"I think The Cliff's Edge can hold his own with anybody," Zito said, "and I'm hoping this will be another step forward for him Saturday."

The field

Florida Derby

Purse: $1 million; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 1

1The Cliff's EdgeS. Sellers6-1
2Friends LakeR. Migliore20-1
3Read the FootnotesJ. Bailey7-5
4TapitE. Prado7-2
5Farnum AlleyP. Day50-1
6Sir OscarJ. Garcia20-1
7Notorious RogueJ. Bravo30-1
8Value PlusJ. Velazquez9-5
9Frisky SpiderE. King Jr.50-1
10SmoocherJ. Santos20-1

* All starters carry 122 pounds
* Blinkers on: Frisky Spider, Smoocher
* Blinkers off: Farnum Alley
* Odds by Art Gropper
* Television: 4 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN2