01/29/2003 12:00AM

Who deserves to go to the Donn?


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - American Style disappointed in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap, while Baseball Champion and Justification were expected to do better when they began their 2003 campaigns under allowance conditions earlier this month.

All three may get a final chance to earn themselves a starting berth in the $500,000 Donn Handicap Feb. 22 when they meet under optional claiming conditions in Friday's ninth race at Gulfstream Park.

American Style has shown stakes-caliber potential on numerous occasions but has yet to win outside the allowance ranks. He did finish third behind Gygistar and his stablemate Nothing Flat in the Grade 2 Dwyer last summer at Belmont, but has finished off the board in three subsequent stakes tries. In the Hal's Hope, he tired to be fifth after making a big run from near the back of the pack to join the leaders around the second turn.

Justification and Baseball Champion finished third and fourth while never threatening front-running winner Keats under similar conditions to Friday's race on Jan. 10.

Baseball Champion easily defeated American Style by 6 1/2 lengths under third-level allowance conditions when the pair last met at Saratoga, but has finished far back in four subsequent starts, including the Grade 1 Woodward, in which he finished fourth, nearly nine lengths behind winner Lido Palace.

Trainer Shug McGaughey decided to shake things up a bit for Baseball Champion's upcoming start, working him an easy five furlongs in 1:04.60 in company with stablemate Negotiation over the turf course here Wednesday.

"I just thought I'd change his attitude a little bit and at the same time see how he liked the turf," McGaughey said. "He's a pretty talented horse when he puts his mind to it, although his last couple have been disappointing. If he were to run well Friday I'd probably entertain the idea of running him in the Donn."

Among the other potential Donn candidates in the field are Parose and Roger E.

Parose may be in the best form of his career at the age of 9 for trainer Alex McPherson, who claimed him for $62,500 for his principal owner, John Atto, 13 months ago. Parose won a pair of stakes at Woodbine last year, including the Grade 3 Woodbine Slots Cup Handicap.

Roger E finished in front of both Justification and Baseball Champion in his local debut three weeks ago while earning a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure.

Longshot outruns graded stakes performers

Wednesday's main event brought together a stakes-caliber field of turf specialists under optional claiming conditions. The group included such proven graded stakes runners as North East Bound, Sir Brian's Sword, Fan Club's Mister, and Red Sea.

But in the end it was Statement, a New York-bred returning from a one-year layoff, whose only previous stakes experience had come against statebred company. Statement rallied along the hedge under another masterful ride by Jerry Bailey to outfinish Sir Brian's Sword, returning $25.20 to win.

Sir Brian's Sword turned in another solid performance in defeat. Bottled up behind the leaders for much of the trip, he moved boldly between rivals to gain a short advantage at midstretch but was unable to match strides with Statement in the final sixteenth.

Red Sea, the 2-1 favorite, trailed for much of the trip and finished fourth. Fan Club's Mister tired to be fifth after contesting a rapid pace, while North East Bound retreated badly down the stretch and has yet to hit the board since winning the Grade 3 Canadian Turf Handicap here 11 months ago.

Wertz, who was claimed for $100,000 by owner Mike Gill three weeks ago, faltered badly after prompting the pace for six furlongs.

Kitty Knight ready for Old Hat

Kitty Knight worked six furlongs in 1:14.60 on Wednesday and trainer Allen Jerkens confirmed her as a starter for Sunday's $100,000 Old Hat Stakes. She will join stablemate House Party in the six-furlong race. House Party had her final tuneup for the Old Hat earlier this week.

A field of only five or six 3-year-old fillies is likely for the Old Hat. Along with the Jerkens entry, the field is expected to include Chimichurri, Ebony Breeze, Follow Me Home, and possibly Glorious Miss.

Turf fillies fly together in workout

The two fastest turf workouts on Wednesday's tab were turned in by New Economy and High Tech Honeycomb, who went in company and were timed five furlongs around the dogs in 1:00.80. Both fillies were prepping for Grade 3 The Very One Handicap on Feb. 8.

New Economy is coming off a 1 1/4-length victory in Calder's Grade 2 La Prevoyante Handicap on Dec. 28. Rosemary Homeister Jr., who guided New Economy to the upset victory in the La Prevoyante, was aboard the 5-year-old for Wednesday's workout.

* Jockeys Cornelio Velasquez and John Velazquez combined to win the first five races on Wednesday program. Velasquez won the first and fifth for trainer Mark Shuman aboard Almost Magic and Harbor Pass. Starting with the second, Johnny V. ran off consecutive winners on Sayabec, Fleet Ain't, and Flaming Sword.