01/22/2003 12:00AM

Strizzi takes giant stride in Feldman

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - When Canadian-based trainer Malcolm Pierce arrived for this meet, running Strizzi in Sunday's $100,000 Dave Feldman Stakes was probably the furthest thing from his mind.

But after Strizzi stormed from last nearing the stretch to blow away first-level allowance rivals in his turf debut on Jan. 8, Pierce's future plans and expectations for the colt suddenly changed.

"Frankly, I was a little more impressed than I had expected to be," said Pierce of the turf debut of Strizzi, a Lit de Justice colt. "His dam is Mysteriously, who won on both turf and dirt, and the Lit de Justices usually move up a little when you put them on the turf. But he seemed to move up a lot, a whole lot."

Strizzi, a Frank Stronach homebred, will have to prove his last race was not a fluke and that he can handle the big jump from first-level allowance to stakes competition.

"Going from a one-other-than into stakes company is not something I like to do, but this race is for straight 3-year-olds and he's doing real well at the moment, which is the time to take a couple of steps up," said Pierce. "If he were to repeat that last race I think he'll be real tough."

Strizzi is a Canadian-bred, and Pierce hopes his big effort last week was not solely because of the change in venue.

"He trains well on the dirt and he's a 3-year-old, which means he's eligible for the Queen's Plate later this year," said Pierce. "Hopefully, he'll prove equally as good on dirt as on grass as the season progresses."

Pierce has 28 horses stabled on the grounds, 24 for Stronach and two each for two outside clients. This is his second visit to Gulfstream. He was here with 16 horses in 2001.

"The Stronach people have kind of changed their program and have decided to slow things down a bit with their 2-year-olds, which is fine by me," said Pierce, who is based at Woodbine for most of the year. "In the past they've had some precocious juveniles who have gone by the wayside as they got older. Now the goal is to have good 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, and 5-year-olds. Of course, that makes it hard to develop a Kentucky Derby horse, although many of their top youngsters are Canadian-breds, which makes the Queen's Plate the goal. And with that race at the end of June it gives us a little more time to prepare our 3-year-olds for that race than the Derby."

Paris Adventure acts up, loses turf try

One horse Strizzi will not have to worry about in the Dave Feldman is Paris Adventure. Trainer Tim Hills was hoping the speedy 3-year-old would take to the turf when he sent him out to breeze over the grass on Wednesday morning. But that experiment went awry when Paris Adventure lost his rider a quarter-mile into the work.

"First, he tried to jump one of the cones, then he ducked in and lost the rider," Hills said shortly after Paris Adventure finally returned to the barn after running loose on the course for several minutes. "The boy said he was switching leads and looking around all the way down the backside before that happened. I was going to run him in the Feldman. I guess I won't be racing him on the grass now."

McPeek pair survive incident

Paris Adventure's adventure began just moments before trainer Ken McPeek's pair of Devil at the Wire and Hi Tech Honeycomb broke off for a five-furlong work over the turf, which they completed without incident in 1:05.60. The McPeek horses and their riders, Edgar Prado and Mark Guidry, were fortunate to escape trouble when passed head on by Paris Adventure as they were pulling up around the clubhouse turn.

"The loose horse didn't affect my two," McPeek said later. "They weren't out there to work a bullet."

McPeek said he plans to run Devil at the Wire in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride Stakes on Feb. 1 and Hi Tech Honeycomb in the Grade 3 The Very One Handicap the following Saturday.

McPeek also sent out White Cat to work four furlongs in 49.80 seconds under Prado on Wednesday in preparation for the Dave Feldman.

Midway Cat's people not ready to sell

Winning a stakes or allowance race at Gulfstream Park with a 3-year-old in January invariably translates into excitement, a nice payday, and 15 minutes or more of fame in the racing world.

And one other thing: a telephone ringing off the hook.

"I've probably had eight phone calls from people interested in buying this colt," said Rick Hiles, who saddled Midway Cat to a 6 1/4-length victory in a first-level allowance race on the Holy Bull Stakes undercard on Saturday. "People [are] calling from California, New England, New Orleans, Florida. This colt really must have caught a lot of people's eyes."

Nonetheless, Hiles said he and his three partners who comprise B M H Stable do not intend to sell. The other men, all from Kentucky, are Ralph Buckley, Leroy Mudd, and Robert McMahan. "We don't want to sell him because we think he still has a lot of room for improvement," said Hiles. "He might be worth a lot more in another 30 days."

Midway Cat, a $20,000 yearling purchase by the young sire Sir Cat, had won only once in six starts as a 2-year-old, but after Hiles equipped him with blinkers, the colt won the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:43.26, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 96.

"The blinkers helped, but the colt also has matured quite a bit," said Hiles.

Offlee Wild draws heavy attention, too

If a mere allowance winner has Hiles busy, what about a 3-year-old like Offlee Wild, who won the Grade 3 Holy Bull in only his fourth career start?

"I'm pretty much having the owner take all the calls," said T.V. Smith, trainer of Offlee Wild.

Landson Robbins, who has built a Louisville-area company named Set Up into a major corporation with over 3,500 employees, is the managing partner in Azalea Stables, a syndicate that bought the Wild Again colt for $325,000 in Sept. 2001. Smith said Robbins has fielded a number of phone calls but added, "all indications I've gotten from him is that it would take a whole lot of money to get this horse."

Buying a prospect who has flashed varying degrees of talent has become a common method of trying to get to the Kentucky Derby. Three of the last 11 Derby winners were private purchases after their careers had begun: Lil E. Tee (1992), Thunder Gulch (1995), and War Emblem (2002).

Hana Highway pops at $48.20

Hana Highway got a great stalking trip under Eibar Coa before defeating Native Heir by a head in the Wednesday feature at Gulfstream, a $46,000 classified allowance for older horses.

Hana Highway, trained by Richard Arnold Jr., paid $48.20 after finishing six furlongs in 1:09.21 over a fast track. Dream Run, the 2-1 favorite, finished another five lengths back in third.

Owsley points to Orchid in March

Owsley, winner of the Grade 2 WinStar Galaxy at Keeneland in October, is gearing up for a campaign that trainer Randy Schulhofer hopes will result in a starting berth in the March 23 Orchid Handicap.

"We just put her back in serious training after she got a nice break at the farm," said Schulhofer. "Our goal is to make the Orchid with her."

Owsley, a 5-year-old mare owned by Arthur Hancock III, finished 12th and last in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf in her final start last year.

- Trust N Luck worked five furlongs in an easy 1:03.80 at Calder on Wednesday as he continues to prepare for his 3-year-old debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 15.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee