03/19/2004 12:00AM

Wacky for Love in top shape

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Keith Sirota has tried to duck the big guns as best he can while waiting for Wacky for Love to cycle back to his top form here this winter. Now his horse is at the top of his game, and the competition should be more to his liking when he goes postward among the favorites in next Saturday's $100,000 Artax Handicap.

Wacky for Love will enter the Artax off arguably the best performance of his career, a game third-place finish in the Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Handicap. Sirota managed to avoid Cajun Beat and Alke in the Grade 2 Richter Scale but had the misfortune to catch Lion Tamer, who covered seven furlongs in 1:21.52 seconds en route to his second straight victory.

"He pressed all the pace and never got a breather but still finished third," said Sirota of Wacky for Love, who is owned by the Hammer Time Stable. "I'm not saying we'd have beaten Lion Tamer, but if he got to relax just a little bit he probably could have been second."

Wacky for Love worked four furlongs in 48.20 seconds under jockey Jose Santos here Friday.

"Jose has ridden this horse throughout his career, and he was really happy with him this morning," said Sirota on Friday. "When he was a young horse he was always smaller than everybody else, but he's caught up to them all now. He's really blossomed and matured physically. Jose said he was like a little boy before, but he's a man now."

Wacky for Love is one of 18 horses nominated to the Artax. Among the others expected to start are Gygistar, who finished fourth in the Richter Scale, and Pass Rush.

Christine's Outlaw likely to sit out

Christine's Outlaw is also among the nominees for the Artax, but trainer George Weaver said that even though he's looking to turn his horse back to seven furlongs, it is unlikely he'll bring him back on just two weeks' rest. Christine's Outlaw finished a tiring fifth after contesting the early pace in last Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Skip Away Handicap.

"I ran him in the Skip Away because I wanted to get a two-turn answer, and I think I did," said Weaver. "Seven furlongs seems to be his best gig, and I'll look to turn him back to that distance and try to get him on a consistent schedule for a while, although bringing him back in two weeks might be a little quick."

Spice Island back after scary fall

Spice Island will likely be the second choice in the wagering behind Ocean Silk in Sunday's $200,000 Orchid Handicap. But win or lose, Spice Island's trainer, John Pregman Jr., is just happy to have his Grade 2 stakes winner healthy enough to run.

Spice Island clipped heels and took a frightening spill entering the second turn of the 1 1/2-mile La Prevoyante Handicap at Calder on Dec. 27. Fortunately she walked away from the incident with little more than bumps and bruises.

"We were lucky nothing seriously happened to her," said Pregman. "She went down so hard and far it looked like one of those steeplechase spills. She was a little body-sore for a while, so I just backed off on her and let her recover."

Pregman vanned Spice Island down from his Payson Park base to work over the turf here last month.

"I just wanted to get her back on the grass and make sure there wouldn't be a mental thing because of the spill," said Pregman. "But she seemed to handle everything just fine."

Dedication to race another year

A couple of graded-stakes-winning mares who squared off on the racetrack two weeks ago will be heading in different directions this spring.

Dedication was originally scheduled to be retired to the breeding shed following her two-length victory in the Marshua's River Stakes on March 13, but those plans have now been put on hold. The Marshua's River was the final start for Cellars Shiraz, who will be bred to Silver Charm this season.

Dedication was a Group 1 winner in France at 3 and finished third, beaten a neck by Heat Haze, in the Grade 1 Matriarch last season. She is owned by her breeders, Alec and Ghislaine Head.

"Mr. Head wants to concentrate more on racing than breeding at the moment, so as long as she comes out of the Marshua's River in good order, she's probably going to race one more year," said trainer Christophe Clement. "Which is very good for me, since I'm losing some very good mares, like Voodoo Dancer and Madeira Mist, to the breeding shed this year."

Madeira Mist, second in Tampa Bay Downs' Hillsborough Stakes last Sunday, may make one more start before retiring, with her finale likely to come in Keeneland's Grade 3 Jenny Wiley Stakes on April 18.

Cellars Shiraz retired with 10 victories and earnings of $728,000. She was trained by Bill Cesare for the Bitterroot Investment Inc.

* Clement also reports that Dynever, winner of the Aventura Stakes here last spring and among the top 3-year-olds in the division in 2003, will make his 2004 debut in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on April 6.