02/14/2008 1:00AM

Baby Bird should run better now


NEW YORK - Presidents Day weekend kicks off Saturday with a national stakes schedule that finds some tracks not normally accustomed to the spotlight squarely in center stage. The richest events are Laurel's Grade 2, $300,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap, and Tampa Bay Downs's $200,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby.

Barbara Fritchie Handicap

Oprah Winney won this race last year, but she was in much better form then than she is in now, and is vulnerable. Control System is a slightly different story. She impressed winning the Interborough Handicap last time out to improve her career record to 5 for 7, and is the one to beat. That said, Control System's Interborough Beyer Figure of 106, earned over an off track, does seem suspiciously high. Karakorum Starlet, who is also entered in this race, got a 97 for finishing second in the Interborough, and that is 7 to 12 points higher than her customary Beyer zone.

I like Baby Bird, for a variety of reasons. She ran well when third, beaten just a half-length, in last month's Affectionately Handicap off a freshening. Baby Bird finished behind two opponents who essentially scraped paint, while she was caught three wide on the first turn and seemed to lose focus in upper stretch before getting on track late. I like her cut-back in distance, because going two turns most recently should give her the foundation that often proves important late in seven-furlong events like this. I also like the addition of blinkers, which should address her focus issues as well as help put her into the game early.

Turf Paradise Handicap

Five of the 11 entered in this race are shippers from Southern California. Among them are the speedy Willow O Wisp, who is taking a massive class drop after tiring in the Grade 1 Citation in his last start; Crested, who dropped out of the Citation to win a stakes over the Turf Paradise grass course last month; and Capitano, who won the last two runnings of this event. But I like the current Turf Paradise-based sharpie Billy Allen.

Billy Allen seems to have turned a corner since being claimed at Hollywood Park in December and moving into the high-percentage barn of Keith Bennett. In his first start for Bennett, Billy Allen finished third behind Crested in the Cotton Fitzsimmons Handicap after being rank early. But he relaxed better last time out in the Hang on Slewpy Stakes, and that enabled him to score decisively, beating Capitano back to fifth and earning the best last-out Beyer in this field. Billy Allen trips out Saturday much the way he did in his most recent win, meaning he should be well placed just off a pace contested by Willow O Wisp and Twin Sparks.

Sam F. Davis Stakes

While this race might not have any divisional stars, it did attract several intriguing prospects, such as Z Humor, a good third behind War Pass and Pyro in the Champagne and a dead-heat winner in the Delta Jackpot; Smooth Air, the Hutcheson winner who is looking for his third straight win; and the Nick Zito-trained Fierce Wind, who won big in both his starts around two turns. I'm going with Wise Answer to beat them all.

Wise Answer was on fire at Calder last fall, capped by a big and fast win in the In Reality division of the Florida Stallion Stakes. While he lost his two starts since, he had excuses, as one was an unsuccessful cut-back to a sprint off two route starts, and the other was an unsuccessful turf experiment. Wise Answer is back to two turns on dirt Saturday, his best game, and strong recent works suggest he will return to top form.