01/12/2006 12:00AM

Above the Wind a Pelican pro

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - Above the Wind, the 9-year-old wonder who seems to get better with age, seeks to win his third straight Pelican Stakes on Saturday when he heads a field of 13 sprinters.

An Island Whirl gelding with 19 career wins, Above the Wind makes his 2006 debut in the $60,000 Pelican and will carry 116 pounds under the allowance conditions of the six-furlong stakes. Federico Mata, Above the Wind's regular rider, has been given the return call by trainer Ron Allen Sr.

Last season, Above the Wind won 2 of 9 outings, with both victories coming over the Tampa strip. On Jan. 1, 2005, Above the Wind went to the front and raced his opposition into defeat for his second straight Pelican win, drawing off late to be 2 3/4 lengths clear while covering the six furlongs in a blistering 1:10.04. He came back four weeks later and roared through a half-mile in 44.59 seconds en route to a three-length victory in the seven-furlong Super Stakes, covering the distance in a very fast 1:22.60.

Above the Wind loves the Tampa surface and is 7 for 14 here. He also runs well fresh, and his morning drills for this first start since August - including five furlongs in 59.80 and six furlongs in 1:12.40 - indicate the venerable sprinter is ready for a top effort.

Above the Wind's top challenger is Wild Tale, a well-traveled

sprinter who finished second in the Grade 3 Phoenix at Keeneland and was a fast-closing third in the Grade 3 Sport Page at Belmont.

Joe Rocco is named to ride at 116 pounds.

Attack the Books, who rallied late to finish third in both the Super Stakes and the 1 1/16-mile Challenger Stakes here last year, also stands a chance if the speed in this field backs up. He will carry 116, including jockey Derek Bell.

Among those who face the unenviable task of contesting the pace with Above the Wind are Champagne Account, who led until late in an overnight stakes at Calder two races back, and Lite Brigade, a recent allowance winner who has three wins from five starts at Tampa.

Eduardo Nunez is named aboard Champagne Account, while T.D. Houghton will handle Lite Brigade again for trainer Gerald Bennett.