07/15/2002 12:00AM

Puck likes Jersey just fine, thank you


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Puck liked Monmouth so much in his first start here in the Grade 3, $100,000 Long Branch Stakes on Saturday that he will be staying until the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on Aug. 4.

Puck remained in his stall in the barn of John Forbes after the Long Branch and will make the Jersey Shore his home in the three weeks leading up to the $1 million Haskell, the premier race of the meet for 3-year-olds. Juan Duarte, assistant to trainer Bill White, said that Puck exited his biggest career victory in great condition.

Duarte is Puck's exercise rider, and he witnessed the colt's development heading into the Long Branch.

"He's mentally more mature now," Duarte said. "He's a push-button horse; he'll do anything you want him to."

The Long Branch was the first start Puck had made out of Florida, and it was also the Calder-based White's first start at Monmouth. Puck closed from off the pace to win by 2 1/4 lengths, a style much different than the front-running tactics he had used previously, including in a victory in the $100,000 Unbridled Stakes at Calder June 22.

White said Puck took to the Monmouth strip nicely after his efforts at Calder.

"Calder is a sandy-based racetrack because of the rains we have in the summer," White said. "We always have the feeling that because the racetrack is demanding, that when you go to a faster surface like Monmouth, these horses just skip over it. He really took to this track."

Bold World on target

Trainer Ronald Taylor had been pointing Bold World to the Grade 3, $250,000 Azalea Breeders' Cup at Calder since the beginning of the Monmouth meet, and everything went according to plan as she captured her first graded stakes, and seventh total, on Saturday.

It was the way she did it though that even surprised her trainer. Bold World was in hand under Calvin Borel to storm by the leaders turning for home, and she drew off to win by 8 1/2 lengths.

"I gotta be honest, I thought she'd win, but not like that," Taylor said Sunday. "There were some nice fillies in there. It was a very good field."

Bold World headed into the Azalea off two easy stakes victories at Monmouth on the front end, yet stalked the pace in the Azalea right behind the two pacesetters.

"We spent all winter trying to teach her to do that," Taylor said. "I told Calvin, 'I do not want this filly on the lead.' He just sat there and she just exploded."

Bold World was back on a plane from Florida to New Jersey on Sunday, and Taylor said he will consider her next start this week. Taylor said the Grade 1 Test July 27 at Saratoga is a possibility, but pointed out that the race may be too soon. He also pointed out the $50,000 Candy Eclair Stakes at five furlongs on the turf here July 20 and the Miss Woodford Stakes at the end of the meet as possibilities.

Juvenile action heating up

While the juvenile races have had trouble filling throughout the meet, that doesn't seem to be the case any longer, as Wednesday's card contains two 2-year-old races.

The first race on the card is also the first juvenile race going a distance, run at one mile. All but one of the entrants are colts except the filly Flame Catcher. Smokin Mike, out of the Jeff Bonde barn, ran fourth as the favorite in a maiden race here June 14 over a sloppy track. An $85,000 California-bred yearling purchase last August, Smokin Mike is bred to run longer and should appreciate the stretch-out to a mile.

Gary Contessa ships in Outsmart from New York off a fourth-place finish over a muddy track in a tough Belmont maiden June 16. Outsmart, by Out of Place, is also bred to appreciate the stretch-out in distance and worked a mile in 1:45.20 at Aqueduct on July 9.

A five-furlong 2-year-old maiden race for fillies, the finale on the nine-race card, is easily the most competitive juvenile race of the meet. The race drew a field of eleven fillies, only two of which have raced.

Emblitterate has the experience under her belt, and she should be the one to catch from post 9 for new trainer Linda Rice. Previously trained by Carl Deville, Emblitterate ran second to Mike's Wildcat here May 30, and Mike's Wildcat went on to win the Astoria Stakes at Belmont. Since shifting barns, Emblitterate has been working very well, including a four-furlong breeze in 49 seconds on June 27, the second best of 22 that morning.

Two daughters of Coronado's Quest, winner of the 1998 Haskell, should be competitive in the race. Trainer Alan Goldberg sends out $100,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase Slink, who is out of the Storm Cat mare Cat Appeal. Owned by Jayeff B Stables, Slink will be trying to give Goldberg, who is solid with first-time starters, his first win of the meet. Todd Pletcher, always tough with juveniles, sends in Little Bonnet from his Saratoga barn.

Astrid works for meet debut

Astrid, winner of the Serena's Song Stakes last year as a 3-year-old, worked five furlongs from the gate in 1:00.40 on Sunday as she prepares for her first start of the meet. Her workout was the second-best of 22 that morning.

Trainer John Dowd said Astrid, who ran fourth in the Grade 2 Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks last year, is slated to return in a three-other-than allowance next month. He said the long-term goal for the 4-year-old filly is the Maryland Million Distaff on Sept. 21 at Pimlico.

Astrid has been away from the races since Feb. 14, when she ran fifth in a Gulfstream Park allowance.