01/10/2002 1:00AM

Revived Red Bullet tries Skip Away


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - It has been 602 days since Red Bullet upset Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus in the 2000 Preakness Stakes. Myriad nagging injuries have limited him to four starts since with mixed results.

With those physical problems apparently behind Red Bullet, trainer Joe Orseno believes his 5-year-old is ready to confirm his status as one of the top horses in training beginning with Saturday's $100,000, Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

The 1 1/16-mile Skip Away, which serves as a prep for the prestigious Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 9, drew a field of eight that includes four Grade 1 winners. * is a three-time Grade 1 winner and won this race twice when it was known as the Broward Handicap. Hal's Hope won the 2000 Florida Derby here, and Traditionally won the 2001 Oaklawn Park Handicap.

Fappie's Notebook, who seems better suited to sprinting; Built Up, a stakes winner in his last dirt race; On the Game; and High Ideal complete the field.

Since the Preakness, Red Bullet's stock has declined somewhat. He was beaten in the Dwyer and was away for more than a year because of a variety of ailments, which included a viral infection and the beginnings of a hairline fracture. He was given ample time to recover and made a successful 4-year-old debut at Saratoga last July, winning a seven-furlong allowance race.

But he finished last in the Grade 1 Woodward, after which he was treated for muscle soreness. Convinced Red Bullet did not like Belmont Park, Orseno and owner Frank Stronach opted to skip the Breeders' Cup. They ran Red Bullet in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, and he finished third behind Left Bank and Graeme Hall in a swiftly run race.

"I thought the Cigar Mile was a great race for him," Orseno said. "He ran a 112 Beyer. He didn't run that good a [figure] when he won the Preakness. So if that's any indication of what's ahead . . . he's better now than he was that day."

Immediately after the Cigar Mile, Orseno targeted the Skip Away and the Donn as Red Bullet's immediate goals. After a brief stay on Stronach's Ocala farm, Red Bullet was shipped to Gulfstream.

"He's not ready for a peak performance, but he's ready to do on Saturday what the race calls for, a mile and a sixteenth," Orseno said. "I'm trying to get him to peak in the Donn and then throughout the year have him ready to run in every big race after that. This is a steppingstone. I'm not going to say that he's going to need one because he's dead fit and ready."

Red Bullet will carry topweight of 118 pounds and be reunited with Jerry Bailey, who was aboard for the Preakness victory.

If anything is going against Red Bullet Saturday, it is the apparent lack of speed in the field. Fappie's Notebook stretches out off a victory in the seven-furlong Kenny Noe Handicap, but he came from off the pace when he won the nine-furlong Seminole Handicap last April.

Traditionally could inherit the lead under Pat Day. A son of Mr. Prospector out of the undefeated champion mare Personal Ensign, Traditionally won two allowance races over this strip last winter on or near the lead. He has not been out since last August, and may need a race, according to trainer Shug McGaughey.

"He got a bout of colic when he got down here and it kind of took a little bit out of him," said McGaughey.

Sir Bear and Hal's Hope will vie for sentimental favoritism. Sir Bear, now 9, has lost six consecutive races since upsetting the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap last March. He has not been out since Oct. 27, but can fire fresh.

Hal's Hope was known as a speedball when he won the 2000 Florida Derby. He has come from off the pace in each of his last two starts and was a good second behind Kiss a Native in the Fred Hooper at Calder last out.


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