02/27/2003 12:00AM

Velazquez to answer 'Bertie' call


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - When Jerry Bailey made the logical decision to ride Congaree in Saturday's $1 million Big Cap, trainer Steve Flint was temporarily left without a jockey for his Allamerican Bertie in the $200,000 Rampart Handicap here that same afternoon. So Flint immediately reached out for the hottest rider on the grounds, tabbing John Velazquez to pinch hit for Bailey in the Grade 2 Rampart.

"You never like to lose a rider like Jerry Bailey but Johnny's been winning everything here the past couple of weeks and I have an awful lot of confidence in him," Flint said.

Velazquez won both graded stakes races here last weekend, the Grade 1 Donn Handicap aboard Harlan's Holiday and the Grade 2 Davona Dale the following afternoon on Yell. Velazquez has won five graded stakes races at the meet, including the Grade 2 Hutcheson with Lion Tamer.

"I've gotten lucky to be riding some very nice horses here this winter and that's the key," Velazquez said shortly before winning Thursday's second race on Opaline for trainer David Donk.

Velazquez has put up some masterful rides, including his performance on Harlan's Holiday, who had to overcome post 11 to win the Donn.

"I was a little concerned about the post going into that race," Velazquez said. "The break was the key because I didn't want to have to rush him early or take him back too far if he didn't come away alertly. Fortunately he broke sharply, got good position, and it was pretty easy from there."

Yell was a longshot in the Davona Dale, but Velazquez had confidence in his horse coming into the race.

"She just seemed to be getting better with every race and I told my valet I thought I would finish first or second," Velazquez said. "But she wound up impressing me even more than I thought she would."

Velazquez rode Yell for trainer Shug McGaughey and will be aboard Allamerican Bertie on Saturday for Flint, but it is Todd Pletcher who is his main man here this winter. Harlan's Holiday, Lion Tamer, and Harmony Lodge, whom Velazquez rode to victories in the Grade 3 Shirley Jones and First Lady handicaps, all hail from Pletcher's powerful stable.

Velazquez rides several very promising 3-year-olds for Pletcher, including Lion Tamer and potential Florida Derby candidates Indy Dancer and Aristocat.

"I'm not sure which horse is going in which race yet," Velazquez said. "I'm just leaving myself open for all possibilities that weekend, whether it be in the Florida Derby, Tampa Bay Derby, or Gotham."

Velazquez is currently second in the jockey standings here behind Eibar Coa despite having accepted less mounts than any of the other riders in the top five.

"I try to limit myself to only four or five rides [a day] during the week and concentrate on the weekends when the cards are better," Velazquez said.

Party Queen takes stakes leap

Party Queen has done little wrong in her brief racing career. Sunday, we'll find out just how good Party Queen may be when she makes her stakes debut in the Grade 3, $100,000 Suwannee River Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

Party Queen, a 4-year-old daughter of Cozzene, has won four of five career starts. She appeared on her way to stakes after winning a second-level allowance race at Keeneland by 2 1/2 lengths in April. But, Party Queen came out of the race a bit body sore, according to trainer Vicki Oliver, and the decision was made to give her some time off.

"She just needed time to grow up," Oliver said Thursday from her base at Payson Park. "She's a big, growthy filly and I thought she was going to be a better 4-year-old. At the end of the day I thought it was the best decision for the [filly]. If I had trained on her I could have made some stakes at 3, but I might not have had a 4-year-old."

Based on Party Queen's 4-year-old debut, Oliver may be right. Making her first start in 266 days, Party Queen rallied from 10th at the top of the stretch to win a third-level allowance race at one mile by 1 1/2 lengths. It was her first start against older fillies and mares.

"I think I had her 90 percent fit," said Oliver, who trains Party Queen for her father, G. Watts Humphrey Jr. "I didn't want to train her too hard for an allowance race. I felt she had enough talent to overcome her fitness. I think the race tightened her up to where she is now back to a complete fitness level."

A New Twist shines

A New Twist looked like her old self Thursday, rocketing to the front and never looking back under Pat Day to win a third-level allowance race by 2 1/2 lengths. Longshot Dance the Slew finished second, 3 1/4 lengths in front of Wish it Were.

Chamrousse, last year's Black-Eyed Susan winner, finished a well-beaten fifth after she was pinched back to last leaving the starting gate. She was making her first start since July.

A New Twist's performance was reminiscent of last year's Old Hat Stakes when she ran Forest Heiress off her feet to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Thursday, A New Twist was making her second start since recovering from knee surgery last summer.

"I can train a horse again,'' said John Kimmel, who trains A New Twist for George Bolton and Lucille Conover. "She takes a lot of preparation.

"Amanda,'' Kimmel said, referring to exercise rider Amanda Roxborough, "does a good job. She says it's like riding an electric chair. You don't mind putting out the effort when they have the talent I think she's got.''

Under Pat Day, A New Twist covered six furlongs in 1:10.19 and returned $9.80. Kimmel said he would look for another allowance race at Keeneland for A New Twist before putting her back in stakes company.

Midway Cat works for Florida Derby

Midway Cat on Thursday morning had his first workout since finishing third in the Fountain of Youth, breezing a half-mile in 49.20 seconds. Midway Cat is prepping for a start in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 15.

"This was letting him stretch his legs, and letting him get back in the mode," trainer Rick Hiles said. "We'll do something more serious with him next week."

Midway Cat was rank in the early stages of the Fountain of Youth, something Hiles was afraid would happen when the colt worked a slow half-mile in 51.80 seconds four days before the race.

"When he got back to the barn he was playing in the shed row and I said, 'Oh, no, we could be in trouble,'" Hiles said. "I even contemplated taking him out the morning of the race to take the edge off, but I decided not to do it."

Hiles also said that when Midway Cat showed so much early speed in the Fountain of Youth he wished jockey Jorge Chavez would have let him run, instead of trying to take him back.

"If I could have hollered to the jock down the backside, I would have said 'go on,' " he said. "When you take that much of a hold of him, you take the run out of him."

Bridge jumper goes bust

A bridge jumper at Hawthorne Race Course in Illinois blew $60,000 to show on the Mark Shuman-trained entry of Sally Q and Dynameesch in Thursday's opener at Gulfstream, a $25,000 claiming race. The unidentified bettor lost out when Jose Santos pulled up Sally Q at the eighth pole and Dynameesch finished sixth. Sally Q was vanned off.

A total of $95,403 was wagered to show, $86,512 of which was wagered on the entry. With the entry out of the money, the show prices were $37, $50, and $37.20.

- Mark Guidry rode four winners on Thursday's card. He rode Sound Wave ($27) in the opener, Personal Touch ($10.60) in the fourth, Zach's Contender ($22.20) in the fifth, and Barnacle Steve ($7.80) in the ninth.

- additional reporting by David Grening