03/26/2002 1:00AM

Sir Bear, at 9, has never been better


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - At 9 years old, horses are supposed to start losing a few steps, or more, not get better with age. But the amazing Sir Bear is as good as ever, and his trainer, Ralph Ziadie, did not hesitate when asked which of his star's 64 races and 19 victories was his best.

"The last one," Ziadie said. "He's run a bunch of great races. His win in the Met Mile was outstanding. But that last race was unbelievable. It was just the way he kicked in through the stretch. At the eighth pole I still didn't think he would make it. But he got there."

Ziadie was referring to Sir Bear's 2002 debut, when he rallied from last after the opening half-mile to beat Red Bullet and Hal's Hope in the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap on Jan. 12. On Saturday he defends his title in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap against the same two rivals and Donn Handicap winner Mongoose.

Sir Bear earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 109 for his win in the Skip Away, just a point less than he posted winning the Gulfstream Park Handicap 10 months earlier. The effort came following an 11-week layoff and several subpar performances to close out his 8-year-old campaign.

"Nothing this horse does surprises me," said Ziadie. "He's just an old pro who continues to do as good now as ever. He was tearing the barn the day after the Skip Away. He never misses a day, he's never really been out of training, and he really loves the Gulfstream Park surface. In fact, I wish this meet went on a lot longer and there were more races for him here."

Sir Bear rallied off an honest pace to win the 2001 Gulfstream Park Handicap, but Ziadie is concerned that with only four or five starters likely on Saturday Sir Bear may find himself at the mercy of a soft pace.

"Sir Bear doesn't have the speed to run with the leaders," said Ziadie. "And if Hal's Hope gets an easy lead we could be in trouble. But there's not much we can do about that - just hope Mongoose or Red Bullet keeps him honest."

Sir Bear will be after his fourth Grade 1 victory on Saturday. A win or second-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Handicap would push his career earnings over

$2.5 million for his owner-breeders, Al and Barbara Smollin.

Pletcher's presence lingers

Trainer Todd Pletcher packed the family up and headed back to New York on Tuesday. But he left behind a number of horses, several of whom could see action in stakes races here over the next several weeks.

The most notable of the group is Charioteer, an improving 3-year-old who set the pace into the stretch before finishing fourth behind Repent in the Louisiana Derby, his two-turn debut. Pletcher has the $250,000 Aventura Stakes on April 6 penciled in as a possibility for Charioteer's next start.

"He's a very genuine horse," said Pletcher, who trains Charioteer for the Peachtree Stable.

"He always fights to the end, and I thought he ran quite well for the first time around two turns in the Louisiana Derby."

Pletcher also left behind Bronze Autumn, winner of the OBS Championship Stakes filly and mare division, to compete in the Christmas Past Stakes on April 21, and Texas Glitter for the $75,000 Yankee Affair Stakes at five furlongs on the turf on April 13.

Pletcher shipped his top 3-year-old prospect, Nokoma, back to New York with him on Tuesday and has not ruled out the possibility he could run in the Wood Memorial or one of the other Kentucky Derby preps in April. Nokoma was no factor behind Harlan's Holiday in the Florida Derby.

"He got in behind horses and ate a lot of dirt in the Florida Derby, but that's probably searching for an excuse," said Pletcher.

"The bottom line is he did not run very well. He's trained with enthusiasm ever since, so I'm inclined to give him another chance. The Wood would be a logical alternative, since he ran well in the Remsen and seems to like Aqueduct."

Ms Brookski sent to O'Callaghan

Ms Brookski, who was sold privately by owner Phil Combest to Gary Tanaka shortly after her victory in the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes Feb. 24, has been sent to trainer Niall O'Callaghan in Kentucky, according to Combest.

Ms Brookski finished sixth making her first start for Tanaka in the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss Stakes March 16.

"There really wasn't anything else here for her, so it made sense to send her to Kentucky, where she'll have several options," said Combest.

No sale for Cellars Shiraz

Trainer Bill Cesare reports the sale of his Grade 3 winner Cellars Shiraz has fallen through, and she may run next in the $75,000 Via Borghese Stakes on April 7. Cellars Shiraz showed her versatility winning the Herecomesthebride Stakes on turf Feb. 3 and the Gaily Gaily Stakes over the main track on March 1.

"I think she's a better filly on grass, so we'll run her in the Via Borghese unless it looks like the Ashland might be coming up weak, although that's really a different class of horses," said Cesare.

Another shot for Litany

Thursday's feature will be a $34,000 allowance race for 3-year-old fillies and brings together several promising and lightly raced youngsters, led by Litany, Call an Audible, and Tarnished Lady.

Litany, who closed out her 2-year-old campaign with a 23 3/4-length maiden victory at Delaware Park, finishing a tiring fifth in her 3-year-old debut, under allowance conditions similar to those of Thursday's main event.

"The racetrack was very deep back then, and I think I might have misjudged it a little bit," said Litany's trainer, Graham Motion. "I did some minor throat surgery on her since that race and expect she'll run much better on Thursday."

Both Call an Audible and Tarnished Lady are coming off career-best efforts, winning maiden races around two turns earlier this month.