04/27/2005 11:00PM

Pletcher has a string ready to plunder

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After whetting his appetite by winning with a high percentage of selected shippers last season, trainer Todd Pletcher is digging in for a full feast of slots-enriched purses at Delaware Park.

Fresh from dominating the trainer standings at the recently concluded Gulfstream Park meet, Pletcher will have a large group of horses stabled at Delaware for the first time.

Some of Pletcher's better runners will take shots at $4.8 million in purses on a 2005 stakes schedule highlighted by the $1 million Delaware Handicap, now the second-richest dirt race in the nation for older fillies and mares, behind only the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

The Delaware Handicap received a $250,000 purse increase that was announced Wednesday. The Kent Breeders' Cup Handicap, a Grade 3 turf race for 3-year-olds, is getting a $250,000 boost to $500,000, and the Robert G. Dick Memorial, an ungraded turf race for fillies and mares, received a $150,000 increase to $300,000.

A year ago, Pletcher won with 8 of 15 horses he shipped into Delaware - a phenomenal 53 percent - and earned $466,800.

Fewer available stalls in New York is part of the reason Pletcher has shifted some of his horses. He was cut back from 40 to 36 stalls at Belmont Park and from unlimited to 60 at Saratoga during the off-season.

"It's probably a good thing for me, spread some horses out and run some more horses at Delaware and take advantage of their stakes program more so than I have in the past,'' Pletcher said. "Some of the marginal allowance horses I would run at Belmont I'll run at Delaware, and the purses aren't bad.''

Average daily purses, including stakes, are $274,000 for this year's meet.

Pletcher has about 40 horses on the grounds at Delaware, including his graded stakes winning 3-year-old filly Maddalena, who headlines Saturday's opening-day Legal Light Stakes. The six-furlong Legal Light, named in honor of the first horse to win a race when Delaware opened in 1937, carries a purse of $75,000.

Maddalena, who will be ridden by two-time defending track riding champion Ramon Dominguez, easily won the first three starts of her career, including the Grade 3 Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream. But she stopped badly in the final eighth-mile of the Grade 2 Forward Gal and has been given nearly two months to regroup.

"She didn't break well going seven-eighths, got in a suicidal speed duel, and just came up empty,'' Pletcher said of Maddalena's performance in the Forward Gal. "She's a much better filly than that. We freshened her up, and I wanted to get her back to six furlongs.''

Pletcher said he hopes the Legal Light will set up Maddalena for a race such as the Acorn on June 4. His major targets for Maddalena are the Prioress at Belmont and Test at Saratoga

A pair of fillies coming off long layoffs figure to provide the most keen competition for Maddalena.

Broadway Gold, winner of the Astoria at Belmont Park last June, makes her first start since August for trainer Stan Hough. She showed the ability to fire fresh when she won her maiden by 11 lengths last May.

Queens Plaza won the Sorority at Monmouth Park against just three rivals last September and raced just once more before her campaign ended in October. Trainer Tom Bush has added blinkers for Queens Plaza's 3-year-old debut, a move he has been successful with in 4 of 12 starts the past two years.

As usual, the highlight of Delaware's season will come in mid-July during the two-day Delaware Handicap Festival of Racing. Six stakes will be run July 16 and 17, led by the Delaware Handicap and the Grade 2, $500,000 Delaware Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.

The top 10 trainers from 2004 are all returning, led by Scott Lake. Lake will seek to become the first trainer to win four track titles in a row since Bud Delp led the standings seven straight years from 1963 to 1969. Among the top-caliber horses Lake could run at the meet are stakes winners Don Six and Shake You Down.

Typically, many young horses with star potential will use Delaware as the starting point for their career. Last summer, High Limit, Afleet Alex, and Bellamy Road all won their maidens at Delaware.

- additional reporting by David Grening

At a glance: Delaware Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 135 days; Saturday through Nov. 13; racing Saturday through Tuesday; Wednesday racing begins May 25

POST TIME: 12:45 p.m. Eastern.

ADMISSIONS/PARKING: Free; valet parking, $3.

HIGHLIGHTS:

DateRacePurse
June 25Kent Breeders' Cup (G3)$500,000
July 16Delaware Oaks (G2)500,000
July 16Dick Memorial BC300,000
July 17Delaware Handicap (G2)1,000,000
July 17Leonard Richards (G3)300,000

LOCATION Route 7 and Route 4, Stanton, Del., one mile off Interstate 95, exit 4B.

PHONE: (302) 994-2521

INTERNET: www.delawarepark.com