02/03/2003 12:00AM

Size no bother to Gal O Gal


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - No bigger than a minute, Max Hugel's Gal O Gal was the horse of the hour here Saturday, sprinting along the rail through the stretch to post a well-earned victory in the $100,000 Herecomesthebride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the turf.

You had to see it to fully appreciate it. After cruising off the pace during the early stages, Gal O Gal moved to the leaders on the inside. The large crowd gasped as she negotiated a narrow opening in the upper stretch, withstood a long drive gamely under Chris DeCarlo, and won by a half-length for her first stakes triumph.

"There isn't much to her but she is all heart," trainer Vinnie Blengs said. "She [won] her maiden on the grass last summer for $18,500 at Colonial Downs and she improved every time she raced on turf."

Gal O Gal, a homebred daughter of the Mr. Prospector stallion Manlove, came to hand in earnest in recent months and was recording her fourth consecutive win in the Herecomesthebride. Her last appearance, just 10 days earlier, was in $80,000 claiming company.

"She's got a good constitution," Blengs said. "She's run a lot of late but she came out of the stake full of life. Sometimes those dainty little fillies last longer and do better than the big ones. I'm thinking about Dark Mirage, who was very small but a champion in her day."

Owner-breeder Hugel is a vice president of Rockingham Park and was active in New England real estate circles for many years. He is also a long-time devotee of racing, has a small band of broodmares, and stands Manlove at Liberty Stud in Ghent, N.Y.

"There aren't many opportunities on the grass for 3-year-old fillies at this time, so Gal O Gal will have a little holiday," Blengs said. "She may do a little travelling when she returns but we feel that should not be a problem."

Saturday's crowd of 20,833was larger by some 7,000 than for the comparable program of last winter and management feels the trackside concert by the Beach Boys was largely responsible. Fans of all ages jammed the concert area behind the grandstand and sang along with the Beach Boys as they delivered popular favorites such as "California Girls" and "Good Vibrations."

The crowd kept requesting curtain calls and the Beach Boys responded enthusiastically, stretching the concert well over an hour. Attendees appeared to enjoy the program and the racing, according to Gulfstream officials, who estimated their per capita wagering exceeded $25.

Stewards must hold strong hand

When Florida reorganized state government some years ago and eliminated the state racing commission, racing was affected adversely in many respects.

Gulfstream stewards recently suspended jockey Cornelio Velasquez for seven days for an incident of careless riding. Velasquez appealed the ruling, the appeal was heard by track president and general manager Scott Savin, and the suspension was reduced to four days.

Stewards are responsible for the conduct of a race meet and any action that undermines their authority is not in the best interests of the industry. State racing commissions, which hear appeals in many jurisdictions, are generally supportive of the stewards they license.

It remains to be seen if Velasquez's appeal encourages similar action with other suspensions.