04/02/2005 1:00AM

Value Plus gives Pletcher third stakes on card

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Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO
Value Plus with John Velazquez riding pulls away from the field in the final turn of the Artax Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Value Plus obviously enjoys performing on Florida Derby Day. So, too, does his trainer, Todd Pletcher.

Value Plus's form tailed off following his second-place finish behind Friends Lake in the 2004 Florida Derby, but he returned on Saturday's Florida Derby undercard to register an easy four-length victory over 6-5 favorite Gygistar in the $100,000 . The win was the second of three stakes victories on the Florida Derby undercard for Pletcher, who also won the Orchid Handicap with Honey Ryder and the Pan American with Navesink River.

Value Plus got a perfect trip in the 7 1/2-furlong Artax, stalking the early pace of Built Up and Christine's Outlaw while being kept well out in the better footing of the track by jockey John Velazquez. Value Plus discouraged a strong run from the rail-skimming Super Frolic while continuing wide and moving to the lead entering the stretch. He then easily maintained a safe advantage over Gygistar in the final furlong.

Gygistar, an easy winner of an allowance race earlier in the meet, moved to striking distance while also kept well wide around the turn, but proved no match for Value Plus in the stretch. Super Frolic flattened out in the final furlong and finished third.

Value Plus, who finished second behind Silver Wagon in a second-level allowance race on Feb. 6, paid $8.80. His final time of 1:28.42 set a track record.

"His last race was better than it looked on paper," said Pletcher, who trains Value Plus for owners Marie and Aaron Jones. "He didn't get away very well, and he got beat by a Grade 1 winner in a two-other-than allowance race. He's shown signs of brilliance at times, and hopefully he's learning to put it all together as he matures."

Pletcher said Value Plus might make his next start on the undercard of another big race. The Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap on May 7, Kentucky Derby Day, is possibly his next objective.