01/10/2002 12:00AM

Windsor Castle getting in gear to return

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - It would be hard to blame trainer Frank Alexander for believing he's due to have a little good luck come his way this season with Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle was among the more promising 3-year-olds on the Kentucky Derby trail here last winter. But those hopes were quickly dashed when illness forced Alexander to take him out of training in January and, as a result, out of the Triple Crown picture.

Windsor Castle finally returned to action in late May and finished second behind E Dubai in the Grade 2 Dwyer on July 8 but was forced to the sidelines for the remainder of the year with a pulled muscle in his back.

Windsor Castle is back at Gulfstream again this winter and nearly ready to embark on his 4-year-old campaign. Alexander hopes to see him among the division leaders and a major stakes winner before the end of the year.

"I'm just going to try to forget what happened last year and look forward to a big one in 2002," Alexander said. "Missing the Triple Crown races after he got sick last winter was bad enough. But I swear he would have won the Dwyer the way that race set up if he hadn't gotten hurt. It took him a long while to get over the last injury, although that might have been a blessing in disguise, as he's really grown and become a lot more muscular since his last start."

Windsor Castle, who Alexander sold privately to Cot Campbell's Dogwood Stable following his Remsen victory in his 2-year-old finale, is training extremely well for his return which figures to come in an allowance race within the next couple of weeks.

Alexander said that his plan is to bring Windsor Castle back in an allowance race and then enter in the Canadian Handicap on Feb. 23 with the hopes it comes off the turf, "although it's a good possibility I'll run him either way."

The first major goal, said Alexander, is the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 30.

Alexander also has high hopes for a couple of promising 3-year-olds in his barn: Harmony Hall, who finished third in the Spectacular Bid Stakes on opening day, and Cherokee Girl.

"I loved Harmony Hall's race in the Spectacular Bid," said Alexander. "He drew inside, which really wasn't the place to be that day. So Jerry [Bailey] took him back and got him to rate and finish nicely down the lane. I'll probably run him against allowance company to get his confidence back and then point for the Swale."

Sentiment in Schulhofer barn

Trainer Randy Schulhofer might be feeling a bit nostalgic when he starts Blueformer in Saturday's eighth race.

Blueformer is a half-brother to Exogenous, the multiple Grade 1 winning filly who suffered a fatal injury in the post parade for the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Randy and his father, Scotty Schulhofer, campaigned Exogenous for Vernon Heath's Centaur Farms.

Blueformer, a son of Dynaformer, launched his career Dec. 8 at Calder for the Starlight Stables and trainer Ken McPeek, finishing a late-running second following a wide trip. He was ultimately purchased privately by Heath, the breeder of Blueformer who sold him at auction as a yearling.

"You had to like the way he ran the first time but I guess there was also a little sentimentality involved regarding the purchase," the younger Schulhofer said. "He's a big, strong colt and has a little of Exogenous' look in his eye."

Nafzger has decisions to make

Binthebest will be among the entrants for Sunday's $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap, although trainer Carl Nafzger is unsure whether he will start the late-developing gelding in the six-furlong dash.

"I'll enter and take a look, although I'm not so sure I want to take on Hook and Ladder and Istintaj at six furlongs," said Nafzger.

Binthebest has won his last two starts while posting a career best 100 Beyer winning his 2001 finale under allowance conditions at Churchill Downs.

"He's really come around of late and the main thing now is to find out just what he is capable of doing," said Nafzger. "I had to stop on him at 2 and again after I got him back to training, and he's just now catching on. Six furlongs is really not his lick, so I might just wait until they go a little further before taking on the likes of Hook and Ladder."

Nafzger was still basking in the glow of Wednesday's victory by the undefeated Far Sighted Sal, a 4-year-old who won for the second time in as many starts with an easy win over preliminary allowance competition.

"She scares me the way she won this race," said Nafzger. "When those horses came to her she just went into another gear and pulled away. She had a chip in her knee here last winter so we had it removed and took our time getting her back. I'll let her run through her conditions for now. She'll need four or five starts before she's ready to take on some of those old honkers in the division."

Orseno looks forward to 4-year-olds

While trainer Joe Orseno will watch Red Bullet commence his 5-year-old campaign in Saturday's $100,000 Skip Away Handicap, he is also looking forward to the return of 4-year-olds Macho Uno and Thunder Blitz to his barn later this meet.

Both horses are now at owner Frank Stronach's farm in Ocala, where they will begin breezing shortly. Macho Uno, the 2000 juvenile champion, is likely to ship in by the end of January. Thunder Blitz, last year's Flamingo winner and fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, will likely arrive in February.

With Red Bullet ready for the Skip Away and Donn, Orseno said it was not necessary to rush Macho Uno, who last raced in the Breeders' Cup Classic where he finished fourth. Orseno has not yet mapped a campaign for Macho Uno.

Thunder Blitz has fully recovered from a quarter crack sustained in last summer's West Virginia Derby and is expected to ship to Gulfstream in February.

"He's really filled out, his foot's grown out, and I'm expecting to have a real big year with him," Orseno said. "I think he's going to be a much better 4-year-old than he was a 3-year-old, and he was fourth in the Derby and won the Flamingo. Between him and Macho Uno I should be in pretty good shape in the 4-year-old department."

As far as potential classic horses go, Orseno said he El General, a half-brother to 2000 female turf champion Perfect Sting, could be given a chance to prove his worth on dirt. A son of El Prado, El General has run twice, finishing seventh in a six-furlong dirt race and second in a 1 1/16-mile turf race.

"We might try him on the dirt one time again, because if he does dirt and he has the same ability [as Perfect Sting] he could be the kind of horse that could go into the classics," Orseno said.

Orseno mentioned he has an unraced son of Pulpit who farm manager Danny Vella has raved about. But Orseno said he has not done enough with the colt to confirm those reports and declined to name the horse.

* Whata Brainstorm, winner of last year's Grade 2 Pan American Handicap, breezed four furlongs in 49 seconds Thursday over Gulfstream's main track. He is being pointed to this year's Pan American on March 23. "He's just slow working right now," trainer Jimmy Picou said. "It won't be too long before we let him do a little more."

* There will be a memorial service in the Gulfstream winner's circle at 11 a.m. Saturday for clocker Richard "Thunder" Rosen, who died Wednesday morning after a long illness.

- additional reporting by David Grening