01/03/2003 1:00AM

Opening day a success

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Keeping in step with a day of surprises, First Blush upset Friday's $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes on opening day of the 2003 Gulfstream Park meet. First Blush, a homebred French Deputy colt owned by Irving and Marjorie Cowan, returned $25.80 after finishing six furlongs in 1:10.97 over a fast track.

First Blush, ridden by Jorge Chavez and trained by Allen Jerkens, raced close to the pace in the 23rd running of the Spectacular Bid before gradually edging away from Crafty Guy to win by a half-length. Silver Squire was a late-running third, another three-quarters

of a length back. Super Fuse, the 2-1 favorite in the field of nine 3-year-olds, finished fifth.

The Spectacular Bid was First Blush's second win from six career starts and followed a third-place finish in the Huntington Stakes at Aqueduct in November.

"I had a great trip," Chavez said. "There were two or three horses in front of me early, so I just waited. In the stretch my horse responded when I asked him."

At this time, it seems as though Jerkens isn't thinking about trying First Blush in route races.

"We'll probably keep him at six furlongs," Jerkens said. "Georgie said he's probably just a sprinter. Maybe we'll eventually stretch him out, but he's a blocky horse who's sure built like a sprinter."

Indeed, it seems doubtful that any of the horses in the Spectacular Bid will be contenders for any of the major 3-year-old preps that will be run later at the Gulfstream meet. That series starts Jan. 18 with the Holy Bull Stakes and ends March 15 with the Florida Derby.

The win by First Blush typified a day of pricey winners. Only one favorite - Native Two Stepper ($7.40) in the last race - was victorious on the 10-race card.

An ontrack crowd of 14,791 turned out at Gulfstream in overcast weather with temperatures in the mid-70's. Part of the allure was free admission, but more serious horseplayers had to be encouraged by the sizable fields. A total of 105 horses went to the post.

Ontrack handle was $1,523,267, while overall handle was $8,898,640. Those numbers were up eight and 24 percent, respectively, compared to opening day last year.

Signs that business was up were evident early in the program when lines were 12-deep at some concession stands, where $1 hot dogs and other reduced-priced items were being sold.

- The first race of the meet was "deja vu all over again" for jockey John Velazquez and trainer Barbara Pirie, who teamed to win the opener with Mufasa's Legacy ($7.80). Two years ago, Velazquez and Pirie also won the first race of the Gulfstream meet for owner Bruno Schickendanz with Honorable John. "I was really hoping that we could do this again," said Pirie, a 42-year-old Canadian.

- The starting gate that was used Friday at Gulfstream was one that usually serves as only a backup. The 14-horse gate regularly used was being transported the seven miles from Calder when it turned over on U.S. highway 441 and was damaged beyond repair. No injuries were reported. "At least we're going to get a new starting gate out of it," president Scott Savin said.

- Owner Michael Gill and trainer Mark Shuman, who claimed some

20 horses at the Calder meet that ended Thursday, wasted little time at this meet, claiming the beaten favorite, Cahill Kid, from the third race for $12,000.

Gill and Shuman won the same race with Lively Prospect ($11.80), and later won the day's last race with Native Two Stepper.

- There were no winning tickets sold in Friday's pick six, for which management guaranteed a $25,000 pool. Tickets with 4 of 6 winners returned $525. The actual carryover was $14,967, but management guaranteed a minimum pool of $50,000 for Saturday and $100,000 for Sunday.