01/02/2004 12:00AM

Stakes win extends career

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Before Savedbythelight won last month's Grade 3 Ladies, her connections were thinking about retiring and breeding her. Those plans are on hold for the moment.

Savedbythelight, who is booked to be bred to Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker this year, is nominated to next Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Affectionately Handicap at Aqueduct. Savedbythelight's trainer, Richard Violette Jr., said he will pass the Affectionately and point to the ungraded $75,000 Rare Treat Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 16 because he doesn't want to drop the filly back to 1 1/16 miles after her win in the 1 1/4-mile Ladies on Dec. 20.

"Her breeding plans are on hold, but that could change after the next race," said Violette, who trains the 4-year-old Savedbythelight for Earle Mack. "Realistically, she probably could be bred after the [Rare Treat]. She leaves for Florida on [Saturday] to train down there because Mr. Mack didn't want to leave her in New York to train during the winter."

Savedbythelight, a daughter of Saint Ballado, became a graded stakes winner in the with her three-length score in the Ladies. She also won the ungraded Sands Point at Belmont Park in June.

The Affectionately field figures to be topped by a trio of New York-bred stakes winners, Message Red, Queen's Triomphe, and Golden Damsel. Weights for the Affectionately are due out on Sunday.

Dutrow starts fast in 2004

Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. started the year off with a bang by winning stakes races in New York and Florida on Thursday.

Dutrow won the Interborough Handicap at Aqueduct with Fit Performer and the Tropical Park Oaks at Calder with New York-bred Bobbie Use. Bobbie Use was the favorite in the Tropical Park Oaks. Fit Performer, a 7-year-old mare claimed by Dutrow for $25,000 in March 2003, returned $13.40 in her first stakes win.

On Friday Dutrow, who was in Florida, said that he wasn't surprised by Bobbie Use's win, but was caught off guard by Fit Performer's 6 1/4-length victory in the Interborough.

"I thought we took the wrong horse over there," joked Dutrow, who trains Fit Performer for Steel Your Face Stables. "I can't explain that one. The thing was, she was sitting on her race and everything went her way."

Dutrow said he would be pointing Fit Performer to the $75,000 Correction Handicap on Jan. 31. He hasn't decided upon a next start for Bobbie Use, although it likely will come at the Gulfstream Park meet.

Team Pletcher revels in victory

When Todd Pletcher won his first year-end training title in New York at the conclusion of 2003, it was one for the whole team. Seth Benzel, one of Pletcher's four current assistants, said it was an amazing experience to be a part of Pletcher's spectacular year.

Pletcher topped all trainers with 134 winners, the most in a single season since Peter Ferriola won 149 races in 1992.

Benzel, 28, has worked for Pletcher for 1 1/2 years. He previously worked as Bill Mott's assistant for 4 1/2 years. For much of 2003, Benzel was stationed in Saratoga with many of Pletcher's younger horses. During the winter months, he oversees Pletcher's New York division at Belmont Park.

"To be a part of it was just fantastic," Benzel said. "The barn was on a roll the whole year and everybody worked hard as a team and enjoyed it. Not only did we win the most races for the year, we did it with high quality. We're always looking to develop these horses up the ranks."

Benzel said a particular highlight for him was the Saratoga meet, where Pletcher won a record 35 races, including six stakes.

"Saratoga is the best meet I'll ever be a part of," Benzel said.

* Boston Park, who is being pointed to the $100,000 Aqueduct Handicap on Jan. 17, worked five furlongs in 1:02.13 at Belmont Park on Friday. Boston Park worked in company with Big Country, whose time was 1:02.11.

* Trainers John Toscano Jr., Frank Generazio, Greg Martin, and Kathleen Demasi each were fined by the stewards for employing unlicensed help. Toscano and Martin were fined $50; Demasi $150; and Generazio $100.

* Jockey Rudy Rodriguez was suspended seven days for careless riding in Wednesday's first race. The suspension began Saturday.