03/12/2003 12:00AM

They're slow and steady workers


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - After postponing their scheduled Tuesday workouts because of poor track conditions, Florida Derby contenders Midway Cat and Senor Swinger both put in easy breezes over Gulfstream's main track on Wednesday.

Midway Cat, the third-place finisher in the Fountain of Youth, breezed four furlongs in 50.40 seconds under exercise rider Kenny Martin over a track labeled good. Senor Swinger, undefeated in two starts, was credited with a three-furlong move in 40.60 under exercise rider Derek Sturniolo.

According to trainer Rick Hiles, Midway Cat appeared to be waiting on a horse who was working about 10 lengths behind him. "He caught sight of that horse behind him and he kept waiting for him so he could have something to go with," Hiles said. "If that horse had been 10 in front of us, he would have went after him."

Hiles said Midway Cat "will have no excuses. Whether he's good enough or not, we'll find out."

Trainer Mickey Goldfine said Senor Swinger blew out two furlongs in 26.40 seconds and, by Goldfine's watch, galloped out three furlongs in 39.80 seconds.

Goldfine said if the track were fast, he would have wanted more.

"This was strictly a little maintenance," Goldfine said. "It was just to take a little of the nonsense out of him."

While Goldfine still plans to cross-enter Senor Swinger in Sunday's Tampa Bay Derby, he said his first preference is to run at Gulfstream.

"I'm comfortable running here," he said. "We're only entering at Tampa Bay in case it pours like it did Monday and the track was like it was Monday."

Heavy rains Monday turned the track into a sea of slop.

Empire Maker, the morning-line favorite for the Florida Derby, jogged once around Gulfstream's main track early Wednesday morning. He arrived from Southern California on Tuesday afternoon. Midas Eyes, trainer Bobby Frankel's hopeful for Saturday's Swale Stakes, also jogged once around.

"They got hot this morning, but they ate up last night," Frankel said.

Posse prepped and ready for Swale

The arrival of Posse for Saturday's $150,000 Swale Stakes may have come as a surprise to some. But trainer Steve Asmussen said he had the Grade 3 sprint marked on his calendar even before Posse launched his 3-year-old campaign with a record-setting allowance victory at Fair Grounds on Feb. 10.

Posse was among the more precocious 2-year-olds in the country last season, winning his debut by 13 1/2 lengths at Keeneland on April 10 and the Grade 3 Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes six weeks later. Unfortunately for Asmussen, Posse's form tailed off as the year progressed. He ended the season with a pair of eighth-place finishes in the Iroquois and Great State Challenge Juvenile.

"He just sort of got out of whack for a while and we couldn't put a finger on what the problem was," Asmussen said. "So we gave him a bit of a break, brought him back in an allowance race to get his confidence back, and hopefully after that last race he's back the way he should be."

Posse, a son of Carson City, earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure for his 6 3/4-length win at Fair Grounds last month when he set a five-furlong track record of 57.35 seconds.

"We were using that last race as a prep for the Swale all along," said Asmussen. "He is already a graded stakes winner and capable of winning a race like the Swale if he runs his best effort on Saturday. And a good performance on Saturday puts us in range for races like the Lafayette or Derby Trial during the spring."

Posse will also get a second opportunity to run against Whywhywhy, who figures to be the favorite for the Swale. Their first meeting came in the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, a race won by Whywhywhy. Posse finished a tiring fourth after making a run at the leaders into the stretch.

"The Sanford was definitely the start of our decline last year," Asmussen admitted. "And we're excited about getting another chance to run against Whywhywhy. I think we're going in with a lot better horse this time around."

Whywhywhy turns in easy breeze

Whywhywhy breezed a half-mile in 52.20 seconds on Wednesday in preparation for the Swale.

"He went nice and easy," said trainer Patrick Biancone, who returned to south Florida from his Southern California base on Tuesday.

Biancone is hopeful Whywhywhy can get back on the right track after disappointing performances in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to close out his 2-year-old campaign and the Fountain of Youth Stakes to open his 3-year-old season. Both those races were around two turns.

"I never really trained him as a stayer," said Biancone. "And I expect he should move forward off those two races."

Along with Whywhywhy and Posse, the others expected to start in the Swale are Cajun Beat, Midas Eyes, Eagle Eyrie, First Blush, Massive, and Roaring Fever.

Midas Eyes arrived from Southern California on Tuesday aboard the same plane that brought Posse in from Louisiana. He has not started since he won his maiden in impressive fashion at Calder on Aug. 17. He was purchased privately following that race by trainer Bobby Frankel for owner Edmund Gann

"He wasn't going perfect when I first got him and we had a lot of money into him, so I just decided to give him some time off," said Frankel. "He's going good now and training well, although if Empire Maker wasn't coming for the Florida Derby he wouldn't be here."

Nafzger upbeat despite drought

Carl Nafzger came here this winter one of the hottest trainers on the planet after closing out 2002 with outstanding meets at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. But sustaining that kind of momentum can be difficult in this business, especially at a meeting as competitive as Gulfstream's.

Nafzger, an Eclipse Award winner, has been in the sport long enough not to get discouraged by a couple of slow months.

"This is just part of the game," Nafzger said after entering My Boston Gal and Westerly Breeze for Friday's Grade 2 Bonnie Miss Stakes. "Sometimes things just don't go your way. We don't come down here, or go into any meet for that matter, looking to win a lot of races. I never worry about win percentages. We're looking to win the big races. That's always been my game plan and I think my record bears me out."

Nafzger has certainly won more than his share of big races over the years, most notably the Kentucky Derby, Breeders' Cup Classic, and Florida Derby in 1990 with Unbridled. He also trained Banshee Breeze to an Eclipse championship in 1998 and Unshaded to win the Travers in 2000.

"Obviously we lost a lot of conditions with our horses before we left Kentucky that would have been helpful here," said Nafzger. "That's the price you pay for having two good meets like that. We've also had a number of races that didn't go that we would have liked to have had go. And recently the track has been getting faster and faster, and favoring horses on the lead. Most of my horses don't have that kind of style and we're not going to mess up a good horse by changing their style now. We want to win races but we don't want to cook ourselves doing it. It's a long year."

Nafzger said he has also reshuffled a lot of his stock here this winter.

"We've already sold 12 horses and put a lot of money in the owners pockets, even without winning a race," said Nafzger. "Heck, if things had worked out a little better in a few spots and we had won three or four races everybody would be saying we were having an okay meet."

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch