01/06/2003 12:00AM

Pletcher barn off to sizzling start

Email

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Less than one week into the 2003 Gulfstream meeting trainer Todd Pletcher is already loaded for bear in the 3-year-old division.

Pletcher, who has had Bham pointed for the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 18, sent out two extremely promising 3-year-olds, Indy Dancer and Lion Tamer, to victory in first-level allowance races on Saturday. Indy Dancer's victory came at 1 1/16 miles, while Lion Tamer won at six furlongs.

Indy Dancer was far and away the more eye-catching of the pair - finishing full of run after losing contact with the field during the opening quarter-mile to win off impressively in a field that included the graded stakes-placed Roaring Fever.

Indy Dancer is a son of A.P. Indy out of the stakes-winning mare Dance With Grace. He won his career debut at Aqueduct on Nov. 11 in a way similar to his Saturday win. Lion Tamer is by Will's Way out of a stakes-placed mare named Tippecanoe Creek. He earned his diploma handily at the expense of First Blush in his 2-year-old finale, a performance that became all the more impressive after First Blush won the Grade 3 Spectacular Bid Stakes here on Friday.

"We were high on both colts when we came down here, and it's nice to see them get off to good starts," said Pletcher. "Indy Dancer obviously wants to go two turns. We'll have to wait and see how things unfold for some of our other 3-year-olds before making a decision on where he'll run next. The Fountain of Youth is a possibility, as is the Risen Star. He also has another allowance condition left."

Pletcher said he will probably keep Lion Tamer sprinting for the time being.

"We'll want to try to stretch him out eventually, but I might consider the Hutcheson Stakes as an option for him before that," he said.

The Grade 2 Hutcheson will be run at seven furlongs on Feb. 15.

Pletcher's bid for his first stakes win of the meet ended on a sour note Saturday when Balto Star tired badly under John Velazquez and beat only one horse as the favorite in the Grade 3 Appleton Stakes on the turf.

"John said the course was still a little on the soft side and that Balto Star took a few funny steps and wasn't handling it too well," Pletcher said. "He's the kind of horse who will come up with some spectacular efforts at times and then run some very less-than-spectacular races at others."

Kentucky horsemen enjoy bang-up weekend

The opening three-day weekend brought a lopsided number of wins by Kentucky stables, and a big splash by the trainer-owner team of Mark Shuman and Mike Gill at Gulfstream.

Exactly half of the 22 races run here Saturday and Sunday were won by Kentucky trainers, led by Dale Romans, whose three wins Saturday included a 29-1 upset in the Appleton Handicap by Point Prince.

"It was the best day I've ever had in south Florida and one of my best days anywhere," said Romans. "It was also a huge Kentucky weekend. I think that says a lot about the quality of the horses we've all brought here for the winter. It was a great way to start the meet."

Besides Romans, other Kentucky trainers with memorable weekends were Steve Margolis, whose four-horse stable includes Baileys Edge, the 17-1 winner of the Mr. Prospector Handicap on Saturday; Rick Hiles, who sent out San Dare to her 11-1 upset in the Honey Fox Handicap on Sunday; and Tony Reinstedler, who won races Saturday and Sunday.

Otherwise, it was Shuman and Gill who had fans and horsemen abuzz. The pair was seemingly everywhere in the opening weekend, running, winning, and claiming - repeatedly.

Gill and Shuman won five races during the first three days and must be considered big favorites to be the leading owner and trainer by the time the meet ends April 24.

"I guess because of the numbers, you'd have to say we have a good chance to do that," said Shuman, who never has won a training title. Counting their recent claims, Gill and Shuman have about 70 horses split between Gulfstream and the Palm Meadows training center.

This is the first full meet at Gulfstream for Shuman, a 32-year-old Ohioan who came up under his father, trainer Joe Shuman, before working as an assistant to Howie Tesher and Jim Bond. He struggled when going out on his own in the fall of 2000 before Gill hired him to begin training in Maryland about one year later.

"This is all about Mr. Gill and how he's given me such a great opportunity," said Shuman.

Perfect Story impresses

Perhaps as impressive as Pletcher's two young colts on Saturday was the performance of John Ward's 3-year-old filly Perfect Story in Sunday's finale. A half-sister to Point Given by Tale of the Cat, Perfect Story had to overcome early traffic problems before easily drawing away to her second victory in four career starts.

"I think you saw her really mature yesterday [Sunday], and that's what we were looking for," said Ward. "And I think she's even going to get better when she looks that second turn in the eye."

Ward said he is uncertain what comes next for Perfect Story.

"I'd probably like to take another allowance condition around two turns but if we can't get that to go we'll explore other options," he said. "I think she's the real thing, and at the moment, from what I've seen, I'd say she and Shug's filly [Storm Flag Flying] are a cut above the other 3-year-old fillies in the East."

Catanese gets his first Gulfstream stakes win

Ward chose a first-level allowance race Sunday for Perfect Story rather than turning her back to five furlongs to take on slightly more experienced company in the Dame Mysterieuse Stakes. It worked out well for Follow Me Home, who led throughout for an upset in the overnight stakes and gave trainer Joseph Catanese III his first stakes victory at Gulfstream.

Catanese took over the training of Follow Me Home for the winter from Bruce Levine, who had the filly this fall in New York. A daughter of Cobra King, Follow Me Home is owned by Robert Levine and Robert Braunsdorf.

"I've had horses for Mr. Levine down here in previous winters," said Catanese, who is regularly stabled at Calder, but with the addition of the Levine runners has seven horses bedded down at both tracks for the winter.

"We put blinkers back on her today following her poor showing in the Valley Stream Stakes and had this race in mind for her all the way," Catanese said. "This was certainly a nice way to start the meet and I'm hoping to have similar success when Just Listen runs later this month in the Mac Diarmida Handicap."

Maumee a Mac Diarmida possibility

Trainer Phil Gleaves is also considering the Mac Diarmida as an option for Maumee, an Irish-bred turf specialist who won his U.S. debut impressively on Sunday.

"Peter [owner Peter Vegso] asked me to find him a horse in Europe, so I flew out in early October, looked at several prospects, and liked Maumee the best," Gleaves said. "He had only won one race but had done well against tough company carrying high weights. We entered him for the Appleton Handicap on Saturday, but he didn't get in because of the low weight assignment. I thought his performance was pretty good for his first start in this country."

Gleaves said he will nominate Maumee for the Mac Diarmida, which is run at 11 furlongs on Jan. 19.

"The stakes comes back a little quick, but we'll take a look if he comes out of this one all right," said Gleaves. "I know he'll run all day and the beauty of it is we still have some allowance conditions left to play with."

Plenty bet on pick six

Gulfstream president Scott Savin said the experiment with the progressive pick six on opening weekend must be deemed a success. The pool was guaranteed at $25,000 for Friday, $50,000 for Saturday, and $100,000 for Sunday. No one bought perfect tickets the first two days, and, predictably, handle on the wager increased proportionally as the weekend progressed.

After $24,946 was bet Friday, the handle Saturday was $54,890. On Sunday, when the wager finally was hit for $19,151 per winning ticket, the one-day handle was $143,596.

"I think the pick six helped toward the good numbers we had all weekend," said Savin.

Total all-sources handle for the first three days was nearly $29 million. Savin said another progressive pick six could be offered later in the meet.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee