01/20/2005 12:00AM

Anyone's race in Pasco


OLDSMAR, Fla. - The road to this year's Grade 3, $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby begins Saturday in the $60,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, which has a wide-open field of 14 3-year-olds.

Although marquee trainers such as Nick Zito and Christophe Clement will be represented in the Pasco, two stables that have succeeded while racing under the radar could have the horses to beat.

Hostile Witness, who rallied smartly to upset the six-furlong Inaugural Stakes here last out Dec. 11, makes his 3-year-old debut in the Pasco and figures to be a factor again under Cecilio Penalba. A Successful Appeal colt, Hostile Witness also finished third in the Dr. Fager and fifth in the $400,000 In Reality Stakes at Calder last year. According Julie Luhr, assistant to trainer Larry Bates, Hostile Witness had been considered for the Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 8, but Bates decided the Pasco would be a better race.

"Larry thought the distance was a natural progression for the colt," said Luhr, referring to the seven furlongs of the Pasco, "and since he'd already shown he liked the track here the day he won, we opted for the Pasco."

Hostile Witness will garner his share of public support, but several others in the field bear watching, including Stand Ready. A More than Ready colt, Stand Ready is from the barn of Chuck Simon.

After finishing third in his debut against $75,000 maiden claiming sprinters at Saratoga, Stand Ready returned Sept. 3 for the same price and scored his first win.

Sidelined from September to November, Stand Ready returned with a fourth in an allowance sprint Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs. Two weeks later, he raced evenly before finishing fourth in a one-mile race that was taken off the turf and moved to a sloppy main track.

Stand Ready has been training forwardly over the local strip and adds blinkers for the Pasco.

Nick Zito sends Electric Light, a Silver Ghost colt who won his second lifetime start at Churchill, then had traffic problems in his only try against winners in late November.

Other threats in the field include Captain Lindsay, who finished third in the Inaugural, and Metro Cat, an undefeated Storm Cat colt whose two wins came at Suffolk Downs and who makes his first start for Christophe Clement.