02/01/2005 12:00AM

Silver Wagon easing way back

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Silver Wagon could return in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Sunday, said trainer Ralph Ziadie.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Silver Wagon returned to Gulfstream Park on Tuesday morning for the first time since his third-place finish in the 2004 Fountain of Youth Stakes, working five furlongs in 1:00.80. Trainer Ralph Ziadie is planning to run Silver Wagon in an allowance race Sunday if it fills.

Silver Wagon, who also finished second behind Second of June here last winter in the Holy Bull Stakes, was preparing for the Grade 1 Florida Derby last year when Ziadie discovered he had a chip in his left knee and a spur in the right knee.

Silver Wagon was given most of the summer off to recuperate, and finally launched his comeback Dec. 18 at Calder, where he finished fifth in the seven-furlong Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap.

"Looking back, running him in that race was probably a mistake," said Ziadie. "I thought he was a little fitter going in than he was, and he got real tired. Originally I was thinking about starting him in some of the early sprint stakes at the meet, like Saturday's Deputy Minister Handicap, but instead I've decided to look for a little easier spot to try to get his confidence back."

Silver Wagon ran well at Gulfstream last year, but Ziadie said he thinks the new track surface is different from the one his horse competed over in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth.

"From what I can see, this is a little different Gulfstream Park racetrack than what we've been accustomed to in the past, and I wanted to bring him over this morning and give him a chance to get a little feel for it before he runs there," said Ziadie.

Ziadie said he is also taking his time bringing Buckram Oak's promising 3-year-old Port Town back to the races. A son of Louis Quatorze, Port Town won his only two starts as a 2-year-old last season at Calder.

"I gave him a little breather, and I don't want to rush him back or burn him out too early," said Ziadie. "Our goal is the Florida Derby, and I'd like to get a two-other-than allowance race for him next month. If I can't, I might consider trying him in a race like the Swale."

Closing Argument set for Holy Bull

Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of Closing Argument, said it was difficult deciding whether to run him in the 7 1/2-furlong Hutcheson Stakes or the 1 1/8-mile Holy Bull Stakes, both of which are Saturday at Gulfstream Park. In the end, McLaughlin chose the Holy Bull, largely, he said, because it offers a truer measure of a 3-year-old's Kentucky Derby merits.

"It was not an easy decision," McLaughlin said. "We want to answer the distance question, even though 7 1/2 furlongs might suit him better. When you have a horse of this caliber - if you want to see if he's the big horse - you want to see if he can handle the distance."

Closing Argument worked a half-mile in 47.80 seconds Tuesday morning at Palm Meadows; the time equaled the fastest of 27 at the distance.

Closing Argument has finished in the money in all five of his starts and most recently finished second to Texcess in the 1 1/16-mile Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs on Dec. 4.

McLaughlin nominated turf specialist Mustanfar for Saturday's Donn Handicap, but said Mustanfar would instead be pointed toward races like the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap on the turf on March 6. Mustanfar, who won the Sycamore Breeders' Cup Handicap at Keeneland last fall, was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf in his last start.

Forest Danger eyes Deputy Minister

Forest Danger turned in one of the most impressive debut victories of last year's Gulfstream meeting, when he overcame getting mugged at the start to defeat maidens. He won two more races after that, including the Bay Shore Stakes, before finishing second in the Withers Stakes last May 1.

Forest Danger has not run since, but he could resurface in Saturday's Deputy Minister Handicap for older sprinters. The race will include such outstanding sprinters as Kela, Medallist, and Saratoga County.

"He's possible," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Forest Danger. "He's training very well. I think he'll fire first time back. It's kind of a balancing act. If he's going to run a stakes-caliber race in his comeback, I'd like to have him in a stakes, but that's a much stronger field than some other options."

Pletcher said Forest Danger has been off since the Withers because of a stress fracture to his left front tibia. No surgery was required.

Another one of Pletcher's better 3-year-olds from last year, Value Plus, also was nominated to the Deputy Minister. Value Plus has not raced since June, when he finished out of the money for the third straight time following a runner-up finish in the Florida Derby.

"He kind of tailed off," Pletcher said. "We decided to freshen him up and start anew."

Ashado awaiting Apple Blossom

Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Ashado, who last week was named the champion 3-year-old filly of 2004, is training well at Palm Meadows, but is unlikely to race in south Florida this winter. Instead, she will likely make her first start of the year in Oaklawn Park's Apple Blossom Handicap in April.

Ashado's trainer, Pletcher, said one of the main reasons for running her at Oaklawn is that his options are limited at Gulfstream. He does not want to run Ashado around one turn, and two-turn races here begin at 1 1/8 miles because of the track's expansion. As a result, 1 1/16-mile races - a major staple at one-mile tracks - are now gone.

"I don't want to start her out going a mile and an eighth, so that eliminates anything here," Pletcher said.

The lack of 1 1/16-mile races has impacted much of Gulfstream's stakes schedule. For instance, both the Holy Bull Stakes and Fountain of Youth Stakes, which had been 1 1/16-mile races, are now run at 1 1/8 miles, the same distance as the Florida Derby.

Our New Recruit pulls out

Trainer John Sadler, whose horse Musique Toujours scored a 70-1 victory Saturday in the Sunshine Millions Classic, was hoping to return here this weekend with Our New Recruit for the Deputy Minister. But Sadler said Tuesday those plans have changed.

"We're not coming," Sadler said. "He ran down in behind during his work on Saturday, and I checked him out yesterday and wasn't happy where we were at."

Sadler also said that Musique Toujours returned to his Santa Anita base Monday in good shape but that his future plans remained uncertain for now.

Zito pair out with leg injuries

Trainer Nick Zito said two of his 3-year-old prospects for the winter, Musha Cay and D'Court's Speed, have suffered leg fractures that will keep them out of action indefinitely.

Zito said D'Court's Speed, fifth in the Aventura Stakes, suffered his injury during a morning workout. Musha Cay was pulled up on the far turn of a first-level allowance race here Jan. 15.

Both horses were recently purchased privately out of Calder by owner Robert LaPenta, as was G P's Black Knight, who will be a starter in Saturday's Holy Bull.

* Jill Robin L, who could take on Sis City in Saturday's Davona Dale Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, worked six furlongs in 1:16.20 on Tuesday morning at Gulfstream Park. She was second in a first-level allowance race here on Jan. 13.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman