03/08/2002 1:00AM

White takes a shot with Puck


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Puck all but cinched a spot in Saturday's Grade 1 Florida Derby after working six furlongs in 1:12.80 at Calder on Thursday.

"It was an exceptional work," trainer Bill White said. "He wouldn't have been able to work like this 30 or 45 days ago, which is an indication he is an improving horse who hasn't peaked out yet. He also came out of the work in great shape. If there are no surprises over the next few days he will definitely start in the Florida Derby."

Cornelio Velasquez, Puck's regular rider, was aboard for Thursday's work and will retain the mount in the Florida Derby. Velasquez has had an outstanding meeting, his 46 victories through Thursday placing him fourth in the jockey standings behind Edgar Prado, John Velazquez, and Jorge Chavez.

Puck was a maiden when the meet began, but graduated with a seven-length victory going the nine-furlong distance of the Florida Derby on Jan. 26. He returned four weeks later and finished second, beaten less than a length by Nokoma in a preliminary allowance race.

"I realize this is an ambitious step, running a horse that is one race removed from his maiden victory in the Florida Derby," said White. "But I feel I have a quality colt who is on the improve. And with the purse for the race so significant now, I think you almost have to take a shot if you've got a live horse. You don't get an opportunity to run for $1 million too often."

Puck is owned by the Classic Contenders Stable of Stephanie Preston, the wife of Art Preston of Prestonwood Farms.

"I bought Puck at the OBS April 2-year-old sales kind of over the counter," Stephanie Preston said. "After having gone over the pedigrees and examined so many of the other horses in the sale, I was sitting back and relaxing near the ring when up came this gray horse who just caught my eye. So I bought him for $32,000. I understand it looks like he'll be the longshot in the race. But we're game and for $1 million it seems like a pretty good time to step up to the plate and see what we've got."

In other Florida Derby news Friday, trainer Shug McGaughey announced that Javier Castellano would fly down from New York to ride D'Coach. Castellano has been aboard D'Coach in each of his last two starts, second-place finishes in the Whirlaway and Count Fleet Stakes.

Mountain Forum to Ocala race

Mountain Forum, who upset Florida Derby contender High Star in a second-level allowance race Feb. 16, will likely make his next start in the Ocala Breeders' Championship Stakes on March 19. Mountain Forum, trained by Ron Spatz, was not nominated to the Florida Derby.

"I've also got him nominated to the Tampa Bay Derby, but right now I'm leaning towards Ocala, and if he goes there John Velazquez will ride," said Spatz. "I've run several horses at Tampa in the past and never had much luck there, which is one reason I'm leaning towards Ocala. Secondly, the race is restricted to horses coming out of the Ocala Breeders' Sales and should be an easier spot."

Spatz purchased Mountain Forum for $90,000 at the 2001 OBS February 2-year-old sales. A son of Open Forum, he won Calder's Fabulous Frolic Stakes on the grass at 2 and has earned nearly $120,000.

"He came down with a temperature after his last win, which cost me a few days of training, but he's doing well now," said Spatz.

Spatz said the $250,000 Aventura Stakes here on April 6 could be an option if Mountain Forum runs to Spatz's expectations in his next start.

Del Mar Show prepares for Dubai

Del Mar Show, who won the Ft. Lauderdale Handicap earlier in the meet, breezed a half-mile in 51.80 seconds at Payson Park on Friday as he prepares for his next start, in the $2 million Dubai Duty Free Stakes on March 23.

Del Mar Show overcame a rough trip to run down North East Bound in the closing strides of the Ft. Lauderdale. Jockey Eibar Coa was subsequently suspended 15 days for impeding Del Mar Show while aboard Mr. Livingston in the Ft. Lauderdale.

Del Mar Show is one of two horses from trainer Bill Mott's barn invited to the Dubai Duty Free Stakes, with Hap the other. Mott said Hap, who was scratched from the Canadian Turf Handicap on Feb. 23 when the race was taken off the grass, will make his 2002 debut in Fair Grounds's $700,000 Explosive Bid Handicap on March 24.

Just call him Longshot

Jockey Aurelio Toribio Jr. should be nicknamed Longshot after his exploits over the past two weeks. Toribio has booted home five winners since Feb. 26, none of which has paid less than $17.40. His latest upset came aboard Marco's Word, who returned $27 after winning Thursday's allowance feature.

Toribio's other winners during his streak include Tchula Man ($72.80), Alligator Bay ($17.80), Mustafa ($38.80), and Icanseeclearly ($17.40).

Surface switch creates bigger field

Invariably, when a race scheduled for turf is transferred to the main track because of weather conditions, the field is reduced because of scratches. Horseplayers often bemoan that situation because it typically makes for a considerably less attractive wagering proposition.

But Friday at Gulfstream, when the third race was taken off the turf and moved to the main track, the situation was reversed.

If the race had stayed on grass, a maximum of only eight starters would have been permitted because the inner rail on the turf course was positioned so far out onto the track (30 feet).

But thanks to a lengthy also-eligibles list, 13 ran on dirt. Call an Audible, one of six fillies drawn in into the race because of the surface switch, captured the $32,000 maiden special weight race, returning $11.20 to win for trainer Mark Hennig and jockey Mark Guidry.

Racing secretary Dave Bailey said that horses scratched from the race would have lost a preferential "date" for running back in a maiden turf race later at the meet.

"Most of the trainers want to run these horses on the grass, so they stayed in," he said. "It just happens that it worked out great today in terms of getting a big field. It's kind of amazing, really."

- additional reporting by Marty McGee