05/27/2003 11:00PM

Scant interest in Ponche


MIAMI - Racing secretary Bob Umphrey had to postpone Saturday's scheduled $75,000 Ponche Handicap at Calder due to lack of interest. Only four of the nine nominees to the six-furlong sprint were in the box when entries closed on Tuesday, prompting Umphrey to scrap the race in the hopes of bringing it back again next weekend.

Among the nine nominees for the Ponche, which serves as a local prep for the $500,000 Smile Sprint Handicap on July 12, is Hana Highway, who has shown marked improvement since trainer Richard Arnold Jr. brought him back from a six-month layoff under a $25,000 claiming tag here last fall.

"He's always had chronic foot problems," said Arnold, who also bred Hana Highway. "He kept having abscesses. Although the one thing that turned his form around more than anything was when we had him gelded last summer. He's always been a real nervous horse but since he's been gelded he's really settled down. It's made a ton of difference both mentally and physically."

Hana Highway has already posted three triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures this season, including a career-high 108 when he upset Native Heir under allowance conditions at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 22. Native Heir returned 16 days later to equal a course record in the Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap.

"My horse actually wrenched an ankle when he beat Native Heir and it took me a while to get him back to the races after that start," Arnold said.

Hana Highway finally returned seven weeks later to post an easy 9 1/2-length victory in Ocala's Florida Thoroughbred Charities Stakes. He has since finished third in the Sprint Championship at Tampa Bay Downs and was second, beaten a nose in the final stride by Danaher Steve, in the That's Our Buck Stakes here earlier this month.

"He actually runs his best when his races are spaced out so it probably won't do him any harm to wait another week," Arnold said after learning the Ponche had been postponed.

Umphrey replaced the Ponche on Saturday's card with the $50,000-added Royal Glint, an overnight stakes carded at one mile on the main track. It drew a field of nine, including the multiple stakes-placed Formal Charade.

Stormy Do still winning at 10

Stormy Do may have lost a few steps since he was a fixture in the local sprint handicap division for nearly six years, beginning with his 3-year-old campaign in 1996. But as he showed Tuesday, he's still good enough at 10 to defeat $10,000 claiming rivals.

Stormy Do is owned and trained by his breeder, Jerry Bozzo, who has raised the son of Fortunate Prospect since the day he was born.

"Isn't he something," Bozzo said after the race. "What a nice horse he's been over the years. I tried to decide whether to retire him last fall but he just doesn't want to stop racing. He loves the competition and has given me more pleasure than any horse I've ever owned."

Stormy Do has 11 career wins, the most important of which was the 1997 Hialeah Sprint Championship Handicap.

"What an amazing race he ran that day," Bozzo recalled. "He went to the lead and then three different horses took a run at him. He put each one away and was still going strong at the end of seven furlongs. It was spectacular. He ran a 111 Beyer Speed Figure."

Bozzo, who took out his first trainer's license in 1969, said he will space Stormy Do's races about one month apart for the rest of the season.

"He'd probably like to run once a week if I allowed him," said Bozzo.

Just Listen okay following scare

Trainer Joseph Catanese III said his Grade 1-placed Just Listen was not seriously injured, even though he was vanned off following an 11th-place finish earlier this month in the Carterista Handicap.

"He gave us quite a scare but it was nothing more than a sprain," said Catanese. "I should have him back in training shortly and hopefully ready to run in the Americana Handicap on July 4."

* Apprentice jockeys Carlos Deyan and Jose Lopez made their mark over the weekend. Deyan posted the first victory of his career when he guided Blake the Snake to an upset victory for trainer Kate Francy on Saturday. Lopez lost three pounds of his 10-pound bug after he posted a pair of rail-skimming victories with Uncle Luis and Devils Isle.

* Despite taking almost five inches of rain on Tuesday evening, the racetrack was open for training as usual on Wednesday morning and officially listed as "good" by the track clockers. One trainer said he thought the course was actually in better condition after all the rain than it had been the previous week when it was dry and cuppy.