01/16/2008 1:00AM

Presious Passion puts in a dirt work

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Presious Passion gave Mary Hartmann the most important victory of her training career when he upset Calder's Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap in his 2007 finale. Now Hartmann is hoping her much-improved turf specialist can come right back and give her the richest one when Presious Passion begins his 2008 campaign a week from Saturday in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf.

Presious Passion tuned up for the Sunshine Turf in a somewhat unusual manner, working 1 1/8 miles over the main track in 1:55.36 under jockey Elvis Trujillo here on Wednesday morning.

"The turf course was open for training this morning, but I never worked him on grass before a race in the past, and being superstitious I didn't see any reason to start now," said Hartmann. "That's pretty much his regular routine anyway. Working a mile about 10 or 12 days out from his work."

Presious Passion was actually supposed to work only a mile on Wednesday but was so sharp he broke off a little quicker than expected, according to Hartmann. He went the opening mile in 1:42.11, according to Daily Racing Form, before completing his final eighth in 13.25 seconds.

"He's been really sharp lately and can be a little rank when he works," said Hartmann. "I just wanted to take some of the starch out of him today. I thought he looked well out there. The way he finishes, the last eighth of a mile, is what I'm mainly interested in, and he finished very well."

Hartmann, who races on the New Jersey circuit for most of the year, won 26 races in 2007. Presious Passion is one of only nine horses she has stabled at Gulfstream this season.

"Winning the McKnight made my winter, that's for sure," said Hartmann. "But obviously it would be great if he could win this one, too. Right now we're just pointing for the Sunshine Millions and not making any plans beyond this particular race."

Trainer race a tight one

Trainers Peter Walder and Todd Pletcher have one thing in common during every Gulfstream meeting: They both employ jockey John Velazquez as their No. 1 stable rider. At the moment, the two horseman also have one other thing in common: They are both fighting for the top spot in the trainer standings after the opening two weeks of the meet.

Walder drew within one victory of Pletcher atop the standings after sending out three winners from as many starters on Monday's card. Velazquez was aboard two of the three en route to his own hat trick on Monday.

"I sent Todd a text message Monday night saying I was right on his ass," said Walder. "And he responded by telling me to enjoy it because it won't be for long."

Walder tied for fourth in the trainer standings behind Pletcher last year with 16 victories. He won 39 races overall in 2007 from 177 starters for a very respectable 22 percent success rate.

"Winning at a 22 percent clip might be fine for a lot of trainers, but as far as I'm concerned it's below my standards, and I didn't have a good year in 2007," said Walder, who has averaged 25 to 30 percent winners over the last several years. "That's why I've come into this meet very focused, and I'm happy to get off to a good start because the eyes of the racing world are on this place right now. A lot of the credit has to go to my owners, who let me run their horses where they can win. That makes all the difference in the world."

Tale of Ekati likely to return out of town

Tale of Ekati, winner of the Grade 2 Belmont Futurity and a wide-running fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, continues to progress toward his 3-year-old debut after working a half-mile in 48.80 seconds Wednesday at Palm Meadows.

Trainer Barclay Tagg remains uncommitted regarding where or when Tale of Ekati might launch his 3-year-old campaign, although he has said it is more likely to come out of town rather than locally, since the colt didn't seem to relish the Gulfstream Park surface when training here in December.

Halo Najib not definite for Millions

Halo Najib, who finished third as the favorite in the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes on Jan. 5, worked a half-mile in 47.40 seconds here Wednesday. Trainer Dale Romans pre-entered Halo Najib later that afternoon for the Sunshine Millions Dash, although he is still not committed to the race.

"I still have to talk it over with the owner before deciding our next option," said Romans. Halo Najib is owned by Ahmad Zayat.

Romans said he thought Halo Najib might have been left with a little too much to do down the stretch after falling off the early pace in the Hutcheson.

"We've been trying to teach him to relax," Romans said, "and he was coming off a route and he might have gotten a little too far back in his last start."