09/03/2004 12:00AM

Puck defies odds with return


MIAMI - The chance of Calder resuming its racing schedule Sunday seemed slim at best because of the expected impact of Hurricane Frances - about as slim, perhaps, of the chance that Puck would make it back to the races after sustaining a hairline fracture of the right large pastern during the 2002 Haskell Invitational.

Puck will return to action Sunday, weather permitting, and face nine rivals in the $40,000 Sea Emperor Stakes. The Sea Emperor will be decided under allowance conditions at seven furlongs.

Puck finished fourth, eight lengths behind War Emblem, after pressing the pace of the 2002 Haskell. Puck pulled up in distress after the race but was able to walk back to the barn under his own power. Preliminary X-rays showed no signs of a serious injury, but trainer Bill White was convinced that a problem existed. Several days later, following a closer evaluation, the fracture was discovered.

Under White's guidance, Puck had become one of the leading members of his division during the summer of his 3-year-old campaign, following victories in Calder's Unbridled Stakes and Monmouth's Grade 3 Long Branch. Puck shows only three published works in preparation for his return and only one at Calder, where he breezed five furlongs from the gate in 1:02.60 seconds on Aug. 30.

With Puck likely to need a race coming off a two-year hiatus, the speedy Swift Replica and multiple sprint stakes winner Love That Moon may prove the ones to beat.

Swift Replica has been hard-used contesting the pace in each of his last three starts, but he should be able to relax on the lead and could be a sleeper in the Sea Emperor. Despite facing intense pace pressure, Swift Replica finished second by a head in the five-furlong Calder Turf Sprint Handicap on July 10 and fourth in the Forty One Carat Stakes in his last start.

Love That Moon is still looking to regain the form that moved him to the top of the local handicap division last fall, when he won three straight stakes. Idle from Dec. 13 until mid-July, Love That Moon has improved with every start on the comeback trail. He has also won both previous starts over a wet track, and if Sunday's card goes, it is highly likely it will be over a wet track.

Nightmare Affair, who has yet to finish worse than second in four tries at seven furlongs, is one of two 3-year-olds in the field. The other is Misguided Left, an impressive winner of a high-priced conditioned claiming race two weeks ago.

Completing the lineup are Lawbook, Black Mambo, News Report, Gamble, and Smooth Lover.