02/10/2004 1:00AM

'Outlaw' looks ready to bloom


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Christine's Outlaw began his career 13 months ago with an 11-length victory at Gulfstream Park that immediately made him a 3-year-old to watch in 2003. He subsequently won just one of his next nine starts,

and never ranked among the elite of his generation, though he did finish third in the Arkansas Derby and was second in both the Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park and the Long Branch Breeders' Cup Handicap at Monmouth.

After a busy campaign that saw him race once a month from January through October, Christine's Outlaw was given a break. He returned from a four-month layoff on Monday at Gulfstream with an outstanding performance that stamps him anew as one to watch this year at age 4.

Christine's Outlaw crushed his rivals in the seven-furlong race, winning by six lengths under jockey Jerry Bailey in a swift 1:21.45 for seven furlongs on the fast main track, earning a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure. Another well-regarded 3-year-old from last year's Gulfstream meet, Aristocat, was a well-beaten ninth in the 12-horse field.

"He showed a lot of promise last year. We had high hopes after his maiden victory," George Weaver, who trains Christine's Outlaw, said after Monday's race. "We got really aggressive where we spotted him. There was some big money, and he had a legitimate chance to earn some of that prize money. He didn't win a big one, but we had fun chasing it."

Weaver said he believes Christine's Outlaw, a colt by Wild Again, is best at distances from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, so he will look for spots that fit those guidelines. Next up might be the Grade 3, $100,000 Skip Away Handicap at 1 1/16 miles here on March 13, Weaver said.

More comebacks

Several other runners who made headlines last year are nearing returns, and many of those reside in the barn of Gulfstream's leading trainer, Todd Pletcher.

Strong Hope, who upset Empire Maker in the Jim Dandy Stakes last summer at Saratoga, worked five furlongs on Monday at Palm Meadows in 1:03.80.

"He's a month or so away," Pletcher said. That timetable puts Strong Hope on course for a possible match against Christine's Outlaw in the Skip Away.

Strong Hope is a massive colt who makes an imposing presence, whether breezing in a workout or merely standing in his stall. Pletcher, who weighs his horses regularly, said Strong Hope weighs about 1,290 pounds now. "He weighed 1,300 when he won the Jim Dandy," Pletcher said.

Ashado, who was second in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and then captured the Demoiselle Stakes, worked five furlongs in 1:02.60. "She's on schedule for the Forward Gal," said Pletcher, referring to the Grade 3, $100,000 Stonerside Forward Gal Stakes at seven furlongs here on March 13.

Chapel Royal, who was third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, breezed five furlongs in 1:01.40. He is scheduled to run March 13 as well, in the Grade 3, $150,000 Swale Stakes, a seven-furlong race that also is the next scheduled start for the highly regarded Kentucky Derby prospect Eurosilver.

Balto Star, Pletcher's multiple-stakes-winning turf horse, worked six furlongs in 1:12.80 in preparation for the Grade 1, $250,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on turf on Feb. 22.

Value Plus, who was one of Pletcher's more highly regarded 2-year-olds of last year, is also nearing his return to action. He worked five furlongs in 1:02.80 on Monday. He has not raced since stumbling at the start of the Nashua Stakes and unseating jockey John Velazquez.

Lead Story returns in Sabin

Lead Story, who finished her 2003 campaign with victories in the Churchill Downs Distaff Handicap and Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs, will make her 2004 debut in Sunday's Grade 3, $100,000 Sabin Handicap for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

"She had a nice fall, and hopefully it continues," said her trainer, Carl Nafzger.

The Sabin is overshadowed by what should be a sensational card on Saturday, featuring the Fountain of Youth and Hutcheson stakes, but it is going to be a good race in its own right. In addition to Lead Story, who will be ridden by Calvin Borel, others expected for the Sabin include Final Round (Pat Day), Grab Bag (Jorge Chavez), Nonsuch Bay (Cornelio Velasquez), Pampered Princess (Edgar Prado), Passing Shot (Jose Santos), Roar Emotion (John Velazquez), and Smok'n Frolic (Jerry Bailey).

My Boston Gal starting back

Nafzger is also hoping to get My Boston Gal back to action later this spring. The 4-year-old filly, who has not raced since last year's Kentucky Oaks, breezed a leisurely half-mile in 53 seconds on Monday.

"That was just her second half-mile work," Nafzger said. "She had throat surgery right after the Kentucky Oaks. And then after her final work before the Mother Goose, she was off in a hind leg. She was sore for a couple of months. She wasn't right. There was nothing on X-rays. We just turned her out until she was right. If she makes it back, she makes it. If not, she'll be a broodmare. It would be nice to have her as a 4-year-old. If everything goes right, she should run in April."

* Limehouse, one of the expected starters in Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes at seven furlongs, worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 on Tuesday morning at Palm Meadows for Pletcher.

* Birdstone, who is scheduled to return in an allowance race on Saturday, had his final tune-up on Tuesday when he breezed a half-mile in 50 seconds at Palm Meadows for trainer Nick Zito.

Zito also sent Kentucky Jockey Club winner The Cliff's Edge through a five-furlong drill in 1:02.40. He is scheduled to make his first start of the year in the $100,000 Sam Davis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 21.

* Saarland worked a half-mile in 49.80 seconds on Tuesday morning at Gulfstream for trainer Shug McGaughey.

* At Payson Park, Dynever, who finished third in the Breeders' Cup Classic, breezed three furlongs in 38 seconds for trainer Christophe Clement.

Virginia Derby winner Silver Tree, who was scratched from a money allowance race last Saturday when it was taken off the turf, breezed a half-mile in 51.20 seconds for trainer Bill Mott.