03/19/2003 1:00AM

Proven stars return in allowance


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Assessing the chances of graded stakes winners when they return from extended vacations and face allowance competition can prove a tough challenge for any handicapper. Such will be the case when Gander and Wiseman's Ferry make their 2003 debuts in Friday's $46,000 allowance feature at Gulfstream Park.

The risk versus potential reward of backing a stakes horse off a layoff usually warrants looking elsewhere, and that might be the best way to approach Friday's main event. This despite the fact Gander has earned $1.6 million and Wiseman's Ferry won a pair of Grade 3 stakes races during his 3-year-old campaign.

Gander has been idle since finishing ninth in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap in late November. And even trainer John Terranova cautions that Gander usually take a few races to be at his best.

"Generally, he takes some racing to get into top form, although in the past we've kind of jumped in over our heads with him the first time back," Terranova said. "Last year we started him off in the San Antonio Handicap and the year before in the Donn. This season we've decided to start off easier and let him race himself into form. But he's trained very well and is definitely ready to run on Friday."

Wiseman's Ferry has been idle since finishing ninth in the Indiana Derby Oct. 5. Last winter, when he launched his 3-year-old season here off a five-month hiatus, he finished third going seven furlongs under first-level allowance conditions.

Wiseman's Ferry figures to be part of an early speed duel that could include Roger E and Island Skipper.

Roger E has improved dramatically since shipping to town for the winter and is obviously in much better form now than when he was trounced by Wiseman's Ferry in the 2002 West Virginia Derby. Trainer Mark Shuman has given Roger E ample time off to recover from his one-length victory Jan. 30 in a strong field in a high-priced optional claimer. The field included next-out winners American Style and Justification, as well as Woodmoon and Baseball Champion.

A hotly contested pace would favor Gander as well as another veteran, Dancing Guy, a late-running sort who comes off a fourth-place finish under similar allowance conditions March 1. Dancing Guy will be seeking his first victory since upsetting Sir Bear in Calder's Americana Handicap July 4.

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