03/02/2004 1:00AM

Tapit will begin year in Florida Derby


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Tapit worked a mile in 1:47 on trainer Michael Dickinson's Tapeta Farm in Maryland on Tuesday, after which David Fiske, racing manager for owner Ron Winchell's Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC, confirmed that the undefeated colt will make his much-anticipated 3-year-old debut in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 13.

"It's 60 days and five hours until the Kentucky Derby, and we've got to make a move and see what we've got," Fiske said.

Fiske said Dickinson was very pleased with Tapit's work, which came with regular exercise rider Ellen Gorman aboard.

"He'll work once more in Maryland, either Sunday or Monday, and then ship directly into Gulfstream on Tuesday," said Fiske. "Obviously we'll be giving something to the horses who've been in Florida and already run this winter. We're just hoping he runs well and is able to move on to the next stop."

Wood said in all likelihood that next stop, Tapit's final Kentucky Derby prep, would come in the Wood Memorial.

Tapit has not started since winning the Laurel Futurity on Nov. 15. He had been stabled at Palm Meadows and Dickinson was pointing him for the Risen Star on Feb. 15 but was forced to skip the race and bring Tapit back to his farm because of a minor problem with his shin.

Fiske said Dickinson has yet to confirm a rider for Tapit in the Florida Derby.

"Michael's talking to several riders, including some West Coast jockeys, and we'll likely make a decision within the next day or two," said Fiske.

Puerto Rican import in mainland bow

She has won 14 races in a row, including five Group 1 stakes, but despite a near-perfect record, D'Wildcat Speed may still be among the outsiders on the tote board when she makes her mainland U.S. debut in Sunday's $100,000 Hurricane Bertie Handicap.

D'Wildcat Speed has raced raced exclusively in Puerto Rico for her owner-breeders, the P.R. Speed Inc. She finished second in her career debut at 2 but has been unbeatable ever since. Earlier this winter, D'Wildcat Speed was sent to trainer Bill White, who believes the 4-year-old filly deserves the opportunity to take on graded stakes caliber competition in this country.

"Obviously this will be a real challenge for her, but I think she could be up to the task," said White. "I studied films of a lot of her races, and she just dominated the fillies she ran against in Puerto Rico, although her competition was pretty much the same group from race to race. She had those horses over a barrel. That's why her owners sent her here, to find out if she is the real deal."

All five of D'Wildcat Speed's Group 1 victories came around two turns, but White felt starting her mainland career in a sprint like the 6 1/2-furlong Hurricane Bertie would be a more prudent idea.

"I think this is a really good spot for her initial start over here," said White. "Especially with the highweights Harmony Lodge and Randaroo passing the race. Even though she's been very successful around two turns, it would have been a lot to ask of her to make her first start off a layoff in this country around two turns against graded stakes caliber opposition."

D'Wildcat Speed is a Kentucky-bred by Forest Wildcat out of Velvet Panther. Her dam dominated her division in Puerto Rico before closing out her career with White during the 1998 Gulfstream meeting.

White has engaged Eibar Coa to ride D'Wildcat Speed in the Hurricane Bertie.

A field of six to eight fillies and mares is shaping up for the race and will also include the likely favorite, House Party; the Sunshine Millions Distaff Sprint, winner Mooji Moo; Halory Leigh; Chispiski; and Zawzooth.

House Party drills for Hurricane Bertie

After an unsuccessful attempt around two turns, House Party will return to what she does best - sprinting - in the Hurricane Bertie. On Tuesday, House Party worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 at Gulfstream Park.

House Party won the Grade 1 Prioress last summer at Belmont and began her 4-year-old season with a runner-up finish to Harmony Lodge in the Grade 3 First Lady Handicap. Running back on just 13 days' rest, House Party finished seventh in the Sunshine Millions Distaff at 1 1/16 miles. It was House Party's first attempt around two turns.

Trainer Allen Jerkens didn't blame the two turns as the reason House Party ran so poorly.

"She was nervous in the gate for some reason," he said. "She was at the gate a couple of days before the race and didn't do anything wrong. People think it's the two turns. The starting gate is in front of the grandstand is where it's different, because as sprinters they're usually on the backside where it's quiet. We'll see. She's been good - they don't stay good forever."

House Party will carry 117 pounds and be the co-starting highweight along with D'Wildcat Speed.

Zawzooth, winner of the My Juliet Stakes at Belmont last summer, worked four furlongs in 49 seconds Tuesday morning at Palm Meadows in preparation for the Hurricane Bertie.

Wando cranking up for return

Wando, the Canadian Triple Crown winner, had his second straight strong workout on Monday, drilling five furlongs in 59.60 seconds at Palm Meadows. It was the fastest work of 31 at the distance.

Trainer Mike Keogh put a horse about eight lengths in front of Wando, who inhaled his workmate early in the move and came home very well. On Feb. 24, Wando also worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 in company.

"When I work him by himself he loves to do nothing," Keogh said. "It was a good move. He's starting to pick it up."

Keogh is considering several options for Wando's return. Among them are the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup at Keeneland on April 10 or the Carter Handicap the same day at Aqueduct. In 1997, Keogh captured both the Carter and Metropolitan Handicap with Langfuhr, Wando's father.

Meanwhile, Wando's stablemate, Mobil, worked five furlongs in 1:01 last Saturday at Palm Meadows. According to Keogh, Mobil missed a week of training when he kicked a wall and his hock filled up.

Though Mobil won stakes on turf and dirt last year, Keogh said "I'd like to keep him on turf this year."

Tour of the Cat Duabi-bound

Trainer Myra Mora had been pointing Tour of the Cat for a defense of his title in Saturday's Grade 2 Richter Scale Handicap - until she received an offer she could not refuse.

Mora received an invitation to run Tour of the Cat in the Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 27, and she wasted little time making her decision.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime for everybody involved with this horse," said Mora, who trains a modest stable during the summer at Calder and the winter at Tampa Bay Downs. "Honestly, I was quite surprised we got invited, because there are a lot of U.S. horses who have made more money than he has."

Tour of the Cat is a versatile gelding who has been a mainstay on the south Florida circuit for the past several years. A stakes winner at distances ranging from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, he ran the race of his life to upset Burning Roma by a head in the 2003 Richter Scale.

Mora is hoping Tour of the Cat can rebound off one of his worst performances. He finished a badly beaten 11th behind Burning Roma making his 2004 debut on grass in the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Handicap.

"He got sick after the race with mucus problems, which is probably the reason he ran so bad," said Mora. "Going to Dubai is actually a plus, because it will give him a little more time to recover than if I ran him this weekend in the Richter Scale."

Mora said Tour of the Cat's regular jockey, Abad Cabassa Jr., will be aboard in the Golden Shaheen.

Even without the defending champ, the Richter Scale is shaping up a very good race. Among those pointing for the seven-furlong dash are Valid Video (118), Gygistar (117), Lion Tamer (116), Coach Jimi Lee (115), Iron Deputy (115) and Wacky for Love (113). True Direction (114) remains a possible starter.

Binya may skip Orchid

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he is pointing Binya, winner of the The Very One Handicap, to the $200,000 Orchid Handicap here on March 21, but will not pressure her to make the race.

The Orchid would be Binya's third race in nine weeks, after not running for 14 months.

"It might be back a little quick," McLaughlin said. "It's a long year. If she's doing real well, we'll point to the race. If not, we'll look at other options."

One option could be the Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland on April 21. McLaughlin said his major target for the summer is the $250,000 New York Handicap at Belmont on July 5.

On Tuesday, McLaughlin's stakes winners Roar Emotion and Randaroo worked at Palm Meadows. Roar Emotion, pointing to the Rampart here on March 14, went four furlongs in 49 seconds. Randaroo, whose next start is likely to be the Distaff Breeders' Cup at Aqueduct on March 27, went the same distance in 51 seconds.

* After a three-day schooling session at Gulfstream Park, Florida Derby contender Friends Lake returned to Payson Park, where he worked five furlongs in 1:02 Tuesday morning. It was the quickest of four works at the distance.

- additional reporting by David Grening