02/13/2003 12:00AM

Action's in Florida with Offlee Wild


There is something for everyone on the national stakes schedule Saturday. Marquee events range from two lucrative turf races, the $200,000 San Luis Obispo at Santa Anita and the $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Turf Handicap at Sam Houston, to fillies and mares sprinting in Laurel's $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap to 3-year-old fillies in the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes.

But, there is no question that the two stakes on Saturday that will attract the most scrutiny are the $200,000 Fountain of Youth and the $150,000 Hutcheson, both at Gulfstream Park. The Fountain of Youth is always the first truly meaningful East Coast prep of the year for the Kentucky Derby. And, when you add the fact that the Hutcheson also lured some talented 3-year-olds who hope to stretch out in distance in the near future, you can see why the focus Saturday will be on Florida.

From a betting standpoint, here is where my focus will be:

Fountain of Youth

I was impressed with what Offlee Wild accomplished winning the Holy Bull over the Gulfstream track last month. Despite returning from a two-month layoff and stretching out to two turns for the first time, and despite making the jump to stakes company for the first time, Offlee Wild was the picture of determination winning a stretch duel in the Holy Bull. I like him to win right back.

Unfortunately, Offlee Wild won't be anything close to the 27-1 he was last time, but his price should still be acceptable. Whywhywhy, the favorite in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, albeit a badly beaten one, figures to be the favorite. Ten Cents a Shine, with the services of Jerry Bailey, will surely take money. And, Trust N Luck, with that gaudy 110 Beyer Figure in his last start, will attract support.

Of this group, I fear Ten Cents a Shine the most. He has the tools to become a serious racehorse. But, his deep-closing style isn't a good fit for Gulfstream, where the main track is naturally kind to speed horses and pace pressers like Offlee Wild.

Connally Breeders' Cup Turf

There are two things I want in a horse in this spot: As in most turf races, I want a horse who can finish strongly. And, given a wet forecast, I want a horse who can handle off going. Freefourinternet fills the bill.

Freefourinternet can finish well. He demonstrated that finishing third in stakes at Fair Grounds in his last two starts, finishing in good time despite getting absolutely no pace to rally into. There isn't a lot of speed in this race either, but the presence of Runaway Choice and Even the Score suggests the fractions may at least be a little more honest here.

As for his proficiency on off turf, Freefourinternet began his career in England, so he has had a lot of experience with deep footing. And, in his only start on off turf in this country last fall, Freefourinternet took a tough optional claiming race decisively.

Freefourinternet's price should be fair given this full field, and because Green Free, who finished behind him last month as the even-money favorite, is likely to take considerable action once again. But, Green Fee has never been quite as effective at this distance as he has been at a mile.

Barbara Fritchie

Xtra Heat regained her winning form last time out at Laurel, where she has been almost unbeatable, but she has got a tough row to hoe attempting to repeat in this race. That is because two posts to her outside breaks Carson Hollow, who stopped badly in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but whose brilliant speed made the connections of Xtra Heat attempt rating her in that race.

This time, Xtra Heat may try and go with Carson Hollow, who will really have her speed being fresh, or she may rate again. Either way, Xtra Heat won't be as effective as she is when she's in control of that pace - which won't happen here.

I think there's going to be a speed duel, and I'm picking Zonk to capitalize. Zonk won easy in a stakes at Aqueduct last out, and will be strong in the stretch cutting back from a middle distance.