02/25/2002 12:00AM

Stephentown asked for speed


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Stephentown was the "now" horse coming into the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes but failed to live up to all the hype, finishing a tiring sixth behind as the 5-2 second choice in the final major prep for the $1 million Florida Derby on March 16.

Nobody was more disappointed in Stephentown's performance than his trainer, Anthony Reinstedler. He is more concerned about focusing on his colt's future than dwelling on the past.

"I have no answers for why he ran so poorly in the Fountain of Youth or any excuses either," Reinstedler said shortly after Stephentown worked a half-mile in 49.80 seconds at Gulfstream Park on Monday. "What happened in the Fountain of Youth is water under the bridge and we're just going to move forward from here.

"So far he's trained extremely well since the race. His work today was excellent. He came home the last quarter in 24 and change."

Reinstedler did not push Stephentown in the mornings in the weeks leading up to the Fountain of Youth. The colt's final prep before the race was five furlongs in 1:06.80. Monday's move was far and away his fastest work since his brilliant five-length allowance win on Jan. 9.

"The track is a lot quicker now than it was before the Fountain of Youth," said Reinstedler, who clocked the horse in 48.80 seconds. "But most important he did it all on his own today. He was well within himself and I was very pleased with that."

While Reinstedler is pointing Stephentown to the Florida Derby he has not yet confirmed him as a definite starter in the important Kentucky Derby prep.

"I'll train him and see what happens as we go along," said Reinstedler. "But I'm not committing to anything right now."

Six other 3-year-olds are committed to the Florida Derby, including Nokoma, who is the latest to fling his hat in the ring following his game three-quarter length allowance victory here last Saturday.

"That race was a great education for him and showed he had a lot of guts and determination the way he came through along the rail to win the way he did," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He's become a different horse since the track changed and the mile and 70 yards on Saturday is a lot shorter than he wants to go. He came out of the race well and if all continues to go smoothly he'll run in the Florida Derby."

Awaiting Nokoma in the Florida Derby will be Booklet, Harlan's Holiday, and Blue Burner, the first three finishers in the Fountain of Youth, along with High Star and

D' Coach. Monthir was also listed as a possible starter by the racing office.

Trainer Nick Zito also confirmed that Gary Stevens will fly in from California to ride High Star as well as Governor Hickel in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes on Florida Derby day.

Smok'n Frolic needed a race

As was the case with Nokoma, who tired badly when making his 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull Stakes, his stablemate, Smok'n Frolic, also weakened late as the odds-on favorite in Sunday's Davona Dale Stakes.

"Most of the horses I've run here long off a layoff have seemed to need a race," said Pletcher. "She couldn't have been in a better position down the backstretch and looked like a winner at the three-eighths pole."

Jockey John Velazquez told Pletcher that Smok'n Frolic "just turned loose of the bridle at that point and kind of went evenly from the top of the stretch to the wire."

Pletcher would have much rather started Smok'n Frolic back at seven furlongs. But the Forward Gal Stakes came up a bit too quick and would have left too much time before the filly's major goal at the meet, the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss Stakes on March 15.

"This was just the first race in a long season," said Pletcher, "I think she'll run really well in the Bonnie Miss with a race under her belt."

Pletcher also said that Invisible Ink, the runner-up to Monarchos in the 2001 Kentucky Derby, is about "a work or two" away from a race after breezing five furlongs in 1:00.60.

Rain did Flint a favor

Trainer Steve Flint was obviously watching the Weather Channel when he entered De Bertie for dirt only in Sunday's $75,000 Allen Paulson Division of the Georgia Stakes. Sure enough, the rains came, the race was taken off the grass and played right into the hands of De Bertie, a multiple graded stakes winner who won the restricted stakes.

"If the race stayed on the grass I would have scratched and run her in the Rampart this Saturday," Flint said. "But I never look a gift horse in the mouth and when this race came up I couldn't pass the opportunity. It was a chance to give my horse a nice easy race and a much needed confidence booster."

The $45,000 first-place check Bertram, Elaine, and Richard Klein received for winning the Georgia Stakes will help defray the cost of their latest acquisition, Gallant Frolic, whom they claimed for $100,000 out of Friday's eighth race.

Rampart will have solid field

A small but very talented field is shaping up for Saturday's $200,000 Rampart Handicap, the richest race at the meet for older fillies and mares.

Trainer John Ward Jr. confirmed that Forest Secrets, second behind Miss Linda making her 2002 debut in the Grade 3 Sabin Handicap, would definitely start while Shug McGaughey said he was "seriously thinking about the race" after Atelier breezed a half-mile in 48.40 here Monday.

Summer Colony, who shipped to Santa Anita to win the Grade 2 La Canada Handicap earlier this month, is also among the likely starters for the 1 1/8-mile Rampart.

Ms Brookski clinches contest

Jim Mineo, a veteran horseplayer from Plantation, Fla., defeated O'Connell Benjamin to win first prize in Gulfstream Park's Turf-Vivor Thoroughbred handicapping contest.

Mineo, 46, beat a field of 120 handicappers who came from all over the United States as well as Canada and Venezuela for the tournament. He earned a first prize of $100,000.

"I was pretty happy with the whole tournament, especially the way it was designed to involve less luck and more skill," said Mineo, who defeated Benjamin in the final round by correctly selecting Ms Brookski ($28.80) in the Davona Dale Stakes.

John DeMott and Stephan Franklin tied for third position and along with Mineo and Benjamin qualified for spots in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA Championship in Las Vegas.

The Turf-Vivor contest had an unusual format. There were two preliminary rounds in which each contestant wagered $2 across the board on one horse in five selected races. The top 16 money earners advanced to a head-to-head competition in which the highest seeds competed against the lowest until one player survived. In case of ties in the head-to-head matchups, the higher seeds advanced.