04/01/2004 12:00AM

Seattle Fitz the 'big boy' this time

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla - Even trainer Kiaran McLaughlin admitted he was a bit surprised to see Seattle Fitz start as the favorite in a field that included Peace Rules and Funny Cide in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap. No one will be the least shocked, however, if Seattle Fitz were to be even money or less when he takes on only six rivals in Saturday's $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap.

The Grade 2 Gulfstream Handicap will be decided at 1 1/4 miles.

became a popular item at the Fair Grounds off his second-place finish behind Medaglia d'Oro in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap here earlier in the winter. He managed to avoid the rough run into the first turn in the New Orleans but failed to muster a solid closing response, finishing an even fourth behind Peace Rules.

"I was surprised he was favored and more surprised he didn't show as much speed as normal, which actually proved beneficial because it kept him out of all the trouble on the first turn," said McLaughlin.

"He's trained well since that race and should show more early speed this time. We were prepared to take on the big boys again Saturday, but it's nice to go in a different direction sometimes and be the big boy instead."

Trainer Todd Pletcher will send out both Newfoundland and the late-striding Indy Dancer in hopes of upsetting Seattle Fitz. Newfoundland will actually concede Seattle Fitz one pound coming off victories in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf and Skip Away handicaps. Indy Dancer, a distant third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby last season, comes off a third-place finish in a second-level allowance on Feb. 9.

"I've tried to put a little fire into Indy Dancer and get his mind on business by giving him some faster works since his last start," said Pletcher.

Completing the field are The Judge Sez Who, The Lady's Groom, Jackpot, and Gran Cesare.

The Lady's Groom, Gran Cesare, and The Judge Sez Who all come out of an overnight stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on March 6. The Lady's Groom and Gran Cesare compromised one another's chances by engaging in an extended battle for the lead that day, while The Judge Sez Who lagged at the rear of the pack before finishing a nonthreatening fifth.

Jackpot has done his best on turf but did finish a late-striding second against high-priced optional claiming and allowance competition over the main track in his last.