02/12/2004 1:00AM

Spotlight shines on 3-year-old males

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Gulfstream Park is putting on a 12-race card on Saturday, and it is worth making plans to be at the track from the start to the finish. The day begins with a second-level allowance race featuring the comeback of Champagne Stakes winner Birdstone, continues with the Hutcheson Stakes, and is topped by the Fountain of Youth Stakes.

The Fountain of Youth, Hutcheson, and the allowance race with Birdstone anchor a day when the focus will be squarely on the 3-year-old male division. There is a first-level, seven-furlong allowance race split into two divisions. There is another first-level allowance race at 1 1/8 miles. And there are two maiden races for 3-year-olds, one at six furlongs, the other at 1 1/8 miles. Eight of the 12 races are for 3-year-old males, and 81 horses are entered in those eight races.

Seven of the top 25 3-year-olds who appeared Friday in Daily Racing Form's first Derby Watch of the year are running at Gulfstream Saturday, including Read the Footnotes and Second of June in the Fountain of Youth.

Birdstone drew the outside post in a field of six that will go one mile and 70 yards. It is his first start since taking the Champagne on Oct. 4. Most significantly, it will be his first race around two turns. Jerry Bailey has the mount for trainer Nick Zito. Birdstone's rivals include Farnum Alley, who won a first-level allowance race on Jan. 24, and Smoocher, who was fifth in the Holy Bull Stakes in his last start.

The first-level allowance sprint drew 19 entrants and will be run as the fourth and sixth races on the card. The sixth marks the comeback of Value Plus, who has not raced since stumbling and losing jockey John Velazquez at the start of the Nov. 2 Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct. Value Plus was second in the Futurity at Belmont Park to Cuvee last year. He faces Royal Assault, a debut winner here on Jan. 10 for Zito.

The fourth race includes Thunder Touch, an easy winner of his debut on Jan. 18 at Aqueduct for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

The first-level allowance at 1 1/8 miles, which goes as the day's ninth race, drew 11 runners, including Shaniko, an A.P. Indy colt who was a 6 3/4-length winner against maidens on Jan. 8 in his third career start and first around two turns.

"He worked well and galloped out strongly," Pletcher said of Shaniko's five-furlong workout in 1:01 on Monday at Palm Meadows. "He was green in his second start, but more professional in his third start."

Shaniko's rivals include Swingforthefences, who encountered interference when crossing the wire third in a similar spot on Jan. 24, and Bride's Best Boy, who cruised to a three-length victory in his debut Jan. 10 for trainer Barclay Tagg.

Swingforthefences is trained by Rick Violette, who later in the day sends out Read the Footnotes in the Fountain of Youth.

"He's very, very nice. He's a nice second-stringer," Violette said of Swingforthefences. "He was much the best in his last race. He should move forward."

But wait, there's more

Several promising older sprinters are in the day's seventh race, including Tomahawk, a European import who won his first start for Pletcher in a second-level allowance race on Jan. 4.

Tomahawk faces I'm the Tiger, who was a narrow loser in a highly rated third-level allowance race on Jan. 8. The winner of that race, Alke, came back to upset Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Cajun Beat in the Deputy Minister Handicap last weekend. Also in the field is Omega Code, a stakes-winning sprinter in California who will be making his first start since being transferred to the barn of red-hot trainer Dale Romans.

Sir Oscar is ready

Trainer Manny Azpurua is confident his undefeated Sir Oscar will not be a short horse when he goes to off as one of the favorites in the Fountain of Youth.

Sir Oscar has not started since completing his 2-year-old campaign with a game one-length decision over Wynn Dot Comma in the seven-furlong Jack Price Juvenile Stakes on Nov. 15. But he has had 10 recorded morning works since that outing, including a pair of gate works 10 days apart at Calder, a one-mile work over the Gulfstream strip on Jan. 30, and a sharp five-furlong drill in company with his speedy stablemate Weigelia last Sunday morning.

"He's not a good work horse by himself," said Azpurua. "The gate works gave him company and helped put his mind on racing. I needed to get him used to the track at Gulfstream and have a longer work so I shipped him over there to go a mile. And I wanted to give him one last good workout because he hasn't raced in so long. The last two workouts were very good. We don't want to kill him to win the race, but he's certainly sharp enough to win it if he's good enough."

Azpurua has a little more incentive to have Sir Oscar razor sharp for his 3-year-old debut than some of his colleagues since the homebred comes into the Fountain of Youth with a perfect record. Sir Oscar won each of his six starts at 2, including all three legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes. But some still question whether he has the class to keep pace with the elite of the 3-year-old division.

"He's a very good horse but I still don't know how far he can go," said Azpurua. "When a 3-year-old starts going up and up you just never can tell when they'll stop. We'll see what happens Saturday."

Frisky Spider is Durso's big horse

Frisky Spider has won all three of his starts, but he has been overlooked in the buildup to the Fountain of Youth. He is hard to miss on the track, though. His trainer, Bob Durso, said Frisky Spider stands nearly 17 hands, and that is why he believes Frisky Spider will perform well in his first try around two turns in the Fountain of Youth.

"I think that's what he's wanted all along," Durso said Thursday morning at Gulfstream. "I wish it was a little easier spot, but you've got to meet them sometime. He gets together so quick with the stride he has. It's amazing."

Frisky Spider won first time out at the Meadowlands, and has since won a pair of allowance sprints this season at Gulfstream.

Storm Flag Flying nears return

Storm Flag Flying was an unbeaten champion at age 2, but a bust at 3. She was given a lengthy break, and is now nearing a return at age 4 for trainer Shug McGaughey.

Storm Flag Flying worked five furlongs in 1:02 on Wednesday morning at the Palm Beach Downs training center. McGaughey on Thursday said the drill puts Storm Flag Flying "a couple of weeks" away from her comeback race.

"We did a scan on her last year, and there was some stuff with a back cannon bone," McGaughey said Thursday morning at Gulfstream. "Bruising is what Dr. Larry Bramlage called it. We let it take care of itself, and brought her back in August."

McGaughey said Storm Flag Flying is "training better now" than at this time last year.

Storm Flag Flying's half-brother, the 3-year-old A.P. Indy colt Leading the Parade, makes the second start of his career in Saturday's third race. Leading the Parade was fifth going seven furlongs in his debut on Jan. 10. Both Storm Flag Flying and Leading the Parade are out of the Easy Goer mare My Flag.

Eugene's Third Son has first work here

Eugene's Third Son, who has never finished worse than second while winning 4 of 7 starts, worked a half-mile in 48.60 seconds here Thursday. The work was his first since arriving in south Florida two months ago.

Trainer Pat Byrne had been hoping to launch Eugene's Third Son's 2004 campaign in the six-furlong Mr. Prospector Handicap on Jan. 3, opening day of the meet. But those plans were put on hold after Eugene's Third Son popped a splint after winning an optional claiming and allowance race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 22.

"I wound up giving him more time to recover from the splint than I originally thought I'd have to," said Byrne. "He's a good horse and it's a long year, but I'd really like to get him ready to run in the Richter Scale later in the meet."

The Grade 2 Richter Scale will be run at seven furlongs on March 6.

Byrne is also hoping to have his Grade 2 winner Pass Rush cranked up and ready to run in time to make the seven-furlong Artax Handicap on March 27.

* Day Trader sizzled three furlongs in 34.80 seconds at Gulfstream on Thursday as he continues to train smartly for his first start since finishing off the board as the favorite in the 2003 Mr. Prospector.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch