01/31/2003 1:00AM

Two Derby prospects inseparable


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The finish of Friday's eighth race at Gulfstream Park couldn't have come out any better if it had been scripted. Kentucky Derby hopefuls Ten Cents a Shine and Senor Swinger wound up dead-heating for first place in their 3-year-old debuts under entry-level allowance conditions.

Ten Cents a Shine, the even-money favorite, rallied from midpack to engage Senor Swinger near midstretch, and the pair raced as a team to the wire. Senor Swinger, who had raced a bit closer to the pace, took a short advantage early in the stretch and held his ground tenaciously when he was hooked by Ten Cents a Shine. The pair went on to finish on even terms. It was 5 1/4 lengths back to Roaring Fever in third.

Ten Cents a Shine and Senor Swinger covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.06 on a fast track.

Shortly after having their pictures taken in the winner's circle, trainers Ken McPeek (Ten Cents a Shine, $2.80) and Mickey Goldfine (Senor Swinger, $4.40) shook hands and congratulated one another on the race.

"I thought my horse ran a good race," said McPeek, "although he's still far from his best right now. He's a big horse who needs more work, and this was a good tune-up for him. I'm not sure what will be next. We'll let this one sink in and let him tell us. We don't want him to peak too soon."

Goldfine also thinks that his colt will get better as the season progresses. Thursday's race was only his second start and it was the first time Senor Swinger has been tested under fire.

"I'm very happy with the results, although, naturally, you'd like to win it by yourself," said Goldfine, the son of veteran trainer Lou Goldfine, who was in attendance on Thursday. "I thought he was really green, and he still has a lot to learn yet, but I think he's a really nice horse."

Goldfine ruled out the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth as a possible option for Senor Swinger.

"He definitely won't run in the Fountain of Youth," said Goldfine. "If you want to run in the Kentucky Derby - and we think this horse has the potential - then you have to take it easy getting to it."

Goldfine also credited his dad and wife, Jan, for helping get to this point with Senor Swinger.

"My dad comes out every time this horse works and who can ask for a better person to consult," said Goldfine. "And if it wasn't for my wife, I might not even be down here. She's back in Chicago taking care of our other seven horses so I can be down here with him."

Roger E. wires feature

Roger E. has never hit the board in a stakes race, but he led throughout to defeat a stakes-caliber field of seven older rivals in Friday's $42,000 allowance feature.

The performance - on the heels of a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102 that he received finishing second to Keats in his previous start - could earn Roger E. a starting berth in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 22.

Strive, making his first start since Nov. 22, rallied belatedly to finish second. Woodmoon, winner of the Prairie Meadows Handicap in 2002, was third. Among the also-rans were Grade 3 winner Parose and the Grade 2 stakes-placed American Style.

Year beginning for Harlan's Holiday

Harlan's Holiday, who scored the most important win of his career over this track last winter when he rallied to an easy victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, will launch his 2003 campaign in a $46,000 money-conditioned allowance race here Sunday. The race, which drew a field of six that includes Request for Parole and Hail the Chief, will serve as a prep for the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 22.

Harlan's Holiday has not started since finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 30.

"I'd originally planned on running him in the Hal's Hope, but he just wasn't on top of his game at that time," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "But it was a little long to go before the Donn, so I felt getting a race into him would be beneficial. And I thought the timing was right for this race since it was still three weeks out before the Donn."

Getting a horse to win off a layoff has not been a problem for Pletcher, who sent Harlan's Holiday out to capture the Pennsylvania Derby last Labor Day in his first start since the Preakness. Last Saturday, Pletcher's Smok'n Frolic posted a 2 1/2-length victory in the $750,000 Sunshine Distaff at Santa Anita in her first appearance since Oct. 5.

"I was really pleased with Smok'n Frolic's performance out there," said Pletcher, who said he will likely point the 4-year-old Smok'n Frolic for the Grade 2 Rampart Handicap here on March 1.

Chavez plans Sunday return

Jockey Jorge Chavez suffered a slightly sprained left ankle and a bruised shoulder after being tossed to the ground by his mount, If He Hollers, following the start of Thursday's seventh race. If He Hollers then ran through the inner rail of the main course and was later euthanized. The incident forced the cancellation of the eighth and 10th races on Thursday's program.

"It all happened so quickly I don't remember whether he stumbled or we clipped heels," Chavez said Friday. "At first I lost my breathing and was afraid to move, because I hit the ground with all my weight on my shoulder and thought I might have been hurt a lot worse than it turned out. As it was I could hardly walk when I left the hospital Thursday evening, but I'm doing a lot better today and I expect to be back riding again on Sunday."

Chavez's return Sunday will be a welcome one, since the local jockey colony has already lost the services of two of its stars for the day. Both Jerry Bailey and Edgar Prado are scheduled to ride at Santa Anita. Bailey will be aboard Congaree and Prado on Milwaukee Brew in the San Antonio Handicap.

Sky Mesa's return uncertain

Trainer John Ward said that Sky Mesa continues to progress nicely at the Palm Beach Downs Training Center but Ward has yet to set any definite date for when his undefeated 3-year-old might return to the races.

"He's had two works and will probably breeze a half-mile again over the weekend," said Ward. "Right now we couldn't be happier with the way he looks or the way he's doing, but we'll let him lead us where we'll want

to go."

Ward ruled out the chance of Sky Mesa being ready to run in any of the races on the Feb. 15 Fountain of Youth card, which also offers the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes.

"He definitely won't race on the 15th," said Ward. "At the moment we're keeping all our options open. He's probably going to need at least one work over the Gulfstream track, so when you see us bring him in down there you'll know we're getting serious."

Sky Mesa won all three of his races at 2, including the Hopeful and Lane's End Breeders' Futurity. He was a late scratch as the likely favorite from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile because of a minor foot problem discovered the day before the race.