02/18/2004 12:00AM

Willard Straight back for mile

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - As has been the case for most of the this meet, trainer Todd Pletcher will have the horse to beat in Friday's feature, when Willard Straight makes his 4-year-old debut in a fourth-level allowance/optional claiming race over Gulfstream Park's turf course.

has not raced since finishing 11th, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths, in last November's Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. Pletcher believes the pedestrian pace and the lights at Hollywood Park hampered his horse that night.

Jockey John Velazquez, Pletcher said, "was adamant about the fact he didn't think the horse liked the lights. It was late in the day and the lights were on and they cast a shadow on the turf, and he said the horse started jumping shadows."

Pletcher noted that the only other time Willard Straight raced at night, he finished a dull fourth in a classified allowance race at The Meadowlands.

Friday's race figures to be run under the bright sunshine of south Florida, where Willard Straight won his maiden race last April. The race is also run at one mile, a distance at which Willard Straight won the restricted King Cugat Stakes last November at Aqueduct.

"The horse has trained very well, he's shown some quality," said Pletcher, who owns a meet-leading 24 wins from 77 starters. "He likes to sit off the pace and make one run. As long as there's pace in front of him, he can be effective at a mile or a mile and a quarter."

and Wild Buddy, who are drawn in the first two positions, could be part of that pace and also look like the two major threats to Willard Straight. Fiscally Speaking has been most effective as a late-running sprinter, taking the Grade 3 Aegon Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs last May.

Last February, Fiscally Speaking raced close up to a moderate pace in a third-level allowance race here when he finished second to French Charmer. Fiscally Speaking has been working bullets in the morning at Palm Meadows for his trainer, Carl Nafzger.

Wild Buddy finished second under these conditions at 54-1 on Jan. 29. That day, he was well off the pace before closing well to be second to Marco's Word, who came back to win a starter-allowance race here on Monday. Last year, Wild Buddy was successful on turf while racing on the front end.

Sforza drops back to allowance company for trainer Jimmy Picou after running in three consecutive stakes. He also cuts back to a mile from 11 furlongs.