07/17/2002 11:00PM

All hinges on surface question


MIAMI - It may sound like a broken record, but it was raining when entries were drawn Thursday for Saturday's $50,000 Roman Brother Stakes at Calder, a 1 1/16 miles turf stakes for 3-year-olds that seemed destined to wind up on the main track.

Calder's turf course has had practically no action the past six weeks; only two races were run on grass here since June 9, a fact that probably helped the Roman Brother draw nine entries, several of whom likely will start only if the race goes on dirt.

If the Roman Brother, which is restricted to 3-year-olds who were kept eligible for the Florida Stallion Stakes, goes as scheduled on turf, Valid Action and Mountain Forum appear the ones to beat.

Valid Action won his only previous start on grass when rallying to a 1 1/2-length victory under preliminary allowance conditions on June 3. And trainer Gary Cortolillo says he has been pointing this homebred son of Noactor to the Roman Brother ever since. Valid Action has made one start since that impressive turf debut, finishing third over a sloppy track under second-level allowance conditions earlier this month.

Trainer Ron Spatz is looking forward to getting Mountain Forum back on the grass after a pair of disappointing outings on dirt in the Unbridled and Migrating Moon Stakes earlier in the session.

"I don't think he's off form as much as I believe he just doesn't handle this dirt course that well," said Spatz, who sent Mountain Forum out to a neck victory in Fabulous Frolic Stakes on the turf here at age 2.

Among other key contenders on turf are Absolutely, a game third in his only previous start on grass, and Suave King, who finished third behind Valid Action despite a rough trip when the pair met last month.

If the race is moved to the main track, Thiscannonsloaded figures to be the major beneficiary, having been stakes placed three times on dirt, including a third-place finish behind Booklet and Harlan's Holiday in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in January.

Thiscannonsloaded has made three starts since returning from a four-month freshening following the Holy Bull, the first start of which was a dull showing in the Marco Bay Stakes when he ran with blinkers off. But once trainer Vincent Lombardi put the shades back on Thiscannonsloaded ran like his old self, defeating older allowance competition over a wet track before finishing a tiring third in the Migrating Moon Stakes two weeks ago.

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