02/18/2003 1:00AM

Table is set for Sky Mesa's return

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - John Ward said we would know he was getting serious about Sky Mesa's training when he shipped the colt to Gulfstream Park from his winter home at Palm Beach Downs for a workout.

Tuesday morning, Sky Mesa showed up at Gulfstream Park and did he ever get serious, drilling five furlongs in 1:00.40 under his regular rider, Edgar Prado. The time equaled the fourth-fastest of 31 moves at the distance on a track that yielded some fast times early because of its moisture content.

It was Sky Mesa's fifth timed workout of the year and first at a racetrack since the week before the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Arlington Park. Sky Mesa was scratched from the Juvenile the morning before the race because of a wrenched ankle.

"I was pleased with him," Ward said. "He finished his last eighth pretty nicely, 11 [seconds] and change. For his fifth workout, I think we're on schedule."

On schedule for what remains unclear. Ward said he was no closer to making a decision about Sky Mesa's 3-year-old debut than he was a week ago.

"We're making no commitments to anyone," he said. "We're nominated to everything east of the Mississippi between now and the first of May."

The next batch of major 3-year-old races in the East begins with the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 9 at 1 1/16 miles. The following weekend is Gulfstream Park's Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles, the Tampa Bay Derby at 1 1/16 miles, and the Gotham at Aqueduct at a mile.

Sky Mesa has not raced since winning the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October. Before that he won the Grade 1 Hopeful, after winning his maiden, both at Saratoga.

Prado, who has been aboard for all three of Sky Mesa's victories, said he was impressed with the way the colt looked and felt underneath him.

"I was very impressed when he first came out of the stall. He looked so great," Prado said. "He's built up more and he's more mature. When I called on him he really responded. I think he's doing great. Hopefully, he'll cool out off that work good and we'll play it from there."

Sky Mesa's stay at Gulfstream Park was short-lived. Shortly after 11 a.m., he was vanned back to Palm Beach Downs, where he will most likely have the remainder of his workouts before returning to the races.

Jerkens's Donn hopefuls breeze

Puzzlement, who seems to have improved with the addition of blinkers, and Saint Verre, who has done the same since shedding the hood, put in their final workouts Tuesday morning in preparation for Saturday's Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

Saint Verre, under Jose Santos, went after the first break and drilled six furlongs in 1:13.40, the fastest of six moves at the distance. Puzzlement, under Ray Ganpath, went after the second break and was credited with a five-furlong move in 1:04. Jerkens said Puzzlement, who wore blinkers during his work, actually went seven furlongs in 1:29.

Saint Verre is coming off a second-place finish behind Windsor Castle in the Hal's Hope Handicap. Jerkens removed the blinkers from Saint Verre for that race and the typically speedy colt seemed kind in rating near the back of the pack.

Jerkens noted that when Saint Verre was in the barn of Shug McGaughey, he won an allowance race as a 3-year-old at Saratoga from off the pace.

"When I got him he tried to go to the front all the time," Jerkens said. "Removing the blinkers usually helps settle them down."

As a 3-year-old, Puzzlement would drop well off the pace in his races and, more often than not, come flying late. He went off form last summer, and even the addition of blinkers for the Jockey Club Gold Cup was no help.

But Puzzlement finished a fast-closing second behind Blue Burner in a Jan. 25 allowance race here going 1 1/16 miles. Puzzlement is 2 for 2 going nine furlongs around two turns.

Hypnotist looks to cast spell again

Hypnotist, winner of the Dave Feldman Stakes here on Jan. 26, will try to repeat that result in Friday's Grade 3, $100,000 Palm Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds at nine furlongs on turf.

Since moving to the turf after two unsuccessful dirt starts, Hypnotist has two wins and a second. Hypnotist's neck victory over White Cat in the Dave Feldman came off a 109-day layoff.

"I thought it was a good race. I thought he ran very well, and I thought Jerry [Bailey] rode him very well," trainer Barclay Tagg said. "He kept him in position where all he had to do when he got an opening was to get through. Obviously, he needed a lot of skill on his part and the jockey's to win a by neck. I don't know how good a horse he is, but he's certainly training well, and we're pleased with him. He looks good, acts good, and he's on the muscle."

Bailey has the call on probable favorite Nothing to Lose in the Palm Beach, so Cornelio Velasquez will ride Hypnotist. Others planning to run, according to the racing office, include Imitation, Purely Classic, Unbridels King, White Cat, and possibly Millennium Storm.

Goldfine: No Fountain and no regrets

Senor Swinger, who dead-heated for win with Ten Cents a Shine in an entry-level allowance race on Jan. 31, worked five furlongs in 1:02.80 Tuesday morning. It was his second work since the race.

Trainer Mickey Goldfine, who is targeting either the Florida Derby or Tampa Bay Derby as his colt's next start, said he had no regrets not running him back in the Fountain of Youth.

"Never any looking back. I know I did the right thing," Goldfine said Tuesday. "When this is all said and done, I'd still like to have a horse to run."

Goldfine said it took a while for Senor Swinger to recover from the race, adding, "he's coming along really well and doing really well."

Tagg likes Funny Cide's work

Funny Cide, who finished fifth in the Holy Bull, worked four furlongs in 48.60 seconds Monday at Palm Meadows. Robin Smullen, the assistant to trainer Barclay Tagg was aboard for the move, which equaled the fastest of 19 at the distance, along with a work by the stakes-winning 3-year-old filly Chimichurri.

"We were very pleased with the way he worked," Tagg said. "He's had a throat problem that's been giving us a fit, but Robin said that was the best work she's ever felt on him. Hopefully, we're in gear for the Louisiana Derby or the Florida Derby."

Tagg said he would most likely enter in both spots and run in whichever race Funny Cide drew the better post. Funny Cide broke from post 13 in the Holy Bull.

* My Boston Gal, prepping for Sunday's Davona Dale Stakes, worked five furlongs in 1:00 on Tuesday. My Boston Gal is unbeaten in three starts, including a victory in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes last November at Churchill Downs.