03/13/2002 1:00AM

Three late entrants and a defection from Derby


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Post-position draws for major stakes usually offer few surprises. But such was not the case when entries were drawn Wednesday morning for Saturday's $1 million at Gulfstream Park.

At the draw, three unexpected entries - Smooth Jazz, Monthir, and Peekskill - became part of the field, and Stephentown was not entered because of a minor injury.

Eleven horses, representing 10 betting interests, were entered for the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, led by rivals Booklet and Harlan's Holiday. Smooth Jazz will race coupled with Nokoma, because both are owned by Michael Tabor and trained by Todd Pletcher.

Trainer Tony Reinstedler said Stephentown "jammed up his shoulder" during a gallop on Tuesday. Reinstedler said he didn't know when Stephentown, sixth in the Fountain of Youth, would race next or whether he was still a candidate for the Kentucky Derby.

"I'm just going to get him healthy again before I start talking about all that," he said. "This setback appears to be so minor that he could actually get back into training [Thursday], or at least in the next couple of days."

While none of the three unexpected entrants are considered major threats to favorites Booklet and Harlan's Holiday, the presence of Monthir and Smooth Jazz could greatly impact the strategy for the race, and the outcome. Both horses have a high turn of speed and are threats to force the pace of Booklet, who narrowly defeated Harlan's Holiday in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth stakes after getting loose on the lead.

Smooth Jazz was purchased by Tabor and turned over to Pletcher shortly after winning Aqueduct's Best Turn Stakes for owner-trainer Anthony Dutrow on Feb. 23. A son of Storm Boot, Smooth Jazz has won both career starts but has yet to run beyond six furlongs. He worked a half-mile here Wednesday in 49.60 seconds.

"It was a last-minute decision to run Smooth Jazz," said Pletcher, who named jockey John Velazquez on both halves of the Tabor entry. "He's trained pretty well since coming down here. I worked him this morning [Wednesday] and he went nicely and galloped out well. I talked it over with Mr. Tabor afterwards and he said he wanted to find out what kind of horse [Smooth Jazz] is. The strategy is to try to win with either horse, but obviously coming off two six-furlong races Smooth Jazz will show some speed, which won't hurt Nokoma's chances any."

Trainer Mark Hennig said the defection of Stephentown, which temporarily left Pat Day without a mount in the Florida Derby, was the main reason for his last-minute decision to enter Monthir.

"I'm in this with Monthir primarily because I could get Pat Day," said Hennig.

Day has been aboard Monthir for each of his last two starts, including a nose defeat to Showmeitall in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes. Like Smooth Jazz, Monthir could have a major impact on the pace scenario, especially after drawing post 1.

The additions of Smooth Jazz and Monthir put a smile on the face of trainer Ken McPeek, whose Harlan's Holiday chased Booklet in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, both of which were at 1 1/16 miles.

"I'm glad there's some speed in there and thrilled to see Monthir in the 1-hole," McPeek said. "I'd have liked to have drawn a little further outside instead of post 2, but if Monthir shows speed maybe we can follow him. Most of all the extra sixteenth of a mile is all my horse needs. I think we'll get him [Booklet] this time."

Edgar Prado will be aboard Harlan's Holiday for the first time in the Florida Derby, replacing Tony D'Amico, who had ridden the horse in his previous eight starts.

While McPeek was pleased the additions to the field, Booklet's trainer, John Ward Jr., seemed unperturbed about the potential pace challenges for his colt. Jorge Chavez will ride Booklet.

"Obviously it will add a new dimension to the race we haven't seen before," said Ward. "I told Jorge this morning it wouldn't bother me if there was more speed in the field so he would get over worrying about it before Saturday. My horse is doing real well now, so not having the lead doesn't bother me. I don't think you'll see Jorge sending him away from there."