04/11/2005 12:00AM

Quite a weekend for Zimmerman's barn


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - John Zimmerman is about to wrap up his second season as a Gulfstream Park regular, and the longtime trainer, among the nation's leaders in races won, will be leaving town in style.

Last Saturday, the Zimmerman-trained Procreate set a world record for five furlongs on the turf when he covered the distance in 53.79 seconds en route to a 5 1/4-length victory in Gulfstream's Yankee Affair Stakes.

The following afternoon, Zimmerman was at Keeneland, where his steadily improving 3-year-old More Smoke dominated three rivals, including the odds-on Razor, in the Grade 3 Lafayette Stakes.

"It was a great weekend. It doesn't get much better than that," Zimmerman said upon his return to south Florida on Monday. "Especially for a small-town boy like me."

Zimmerman, who keeps a division of his stable year-round at Penn National, brought a string of 20 runners down this winter and has registered 11 victories, three by the 7-year-old Procreate.

"He had a respiratory issue, which we corrected this winter," said Zimmerman. "Before he would put his toes in a little down the lane, but he's finishing much better now. And he obviously loves this turf course."

Procreate led throughout under regular rider Eddie King Jr. in the Yankee Affair, posting fractions of 20.97 and 42.51 seconds on the way to recording the second world record of the meet. Mr. Light established a one-mile turf mark on opening day.

Zimmerman said Procreate's effort in the Yankee Affair may lead to a change in plans for the 7-year-old, who had raced under a $12,500 claiming tag last fall.

"I was thinking about taking him to the Claiming Crown, but now I'm not sure," said Zimmerman. "We learned a lot about him the other day, and I might start looking around for some five-furlong turf stakes when we get back north."

Zimmerman also had high hopes for More Smoke in the Lafayette. More Smoke was coming off a third-place finish behind the undefeated Lost in the Fog in the Grade 2 Swale here on March 5, but Zimmerman never expected such a spectacular performance.

"I just brought him down here a month ago from Penn National, and he's just flourished every week since he arrived," Zimmerman said. "I knew he would run big in this race, but I didn't think he would destroy the field like that."

Zimmerman will remain at Gulfstream one more week before returning to Delaware Park.

"I thought we did all right considering the horses we brought down this winter, but I'm pretty critical of myself and feel I can always do better," he said. "I'll definitely be back."

Swingforthefences a nice surprise

Trainer Rick Violette also returned to Florida with a smile on his face after his Swingforthefences came back from a six-month layoff to defeat a solid field of allowance horses on opening day at Keeneland.

Swingforthefences was briefly on the Kentucky Derby trail last year and won the Iowa Derby, but had not started since finishing off the board in the Grade 3 Pegasus Handicap at The Meadowlands on Oct. 1.

"He was just knocked out from a long, hard campaign," Violette said, when asked about the layoff. "There really wasn't anything physically wrong with him. He just needed a rest."

Swingforthefences' victory on Friday was all the more impressive because it came at seven furlongs, which is not his best game.

"Going in I was just hoping he would run well to get him started for the year," said Violette. "Having him win was an added bonus."

Violette said the Grade 1 Pimlico Special is a possibility, although the Westchester Handicap is the most likely choice for Swingforthefences' next start.

Life tops turf feature

Life figures to be the odds-on favorite for trainer Christophe Clement and jockey Joe Bravo in Wednesday's $35,000 allowance feature, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares.

Life opened her career with a pair of victories in her native France but is winless in her last five starts, including a third-place finish in her U.S. debut here March 19. She figures to improve off that effort against a group that includes top contenders Spiritual Drift, Orkan, and Piconeach.