02/10/2006 1:00AM

With Barbaro on dirt, grass is greener

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Nobody was happier to see Barbaro win the Holy Bull Stakes here last weekend than the connections of the 3-year-old turf horses stabled in south Florida this winter. Perhaps the most relieved among them were the connections of Wise River, Lewis Michael, and Mr. Silver, who all chased the undefeated Barbaro to no avail in Calder's Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby on New Year's Day.

Barbaro's commitment to the dirt, at least for the time being, will leave races like Sunday's $60,000 Hallandale Beach Handicap at Gulfstream Park up for grabs. The Hallandale Beach has attracted a full and wide-open field of 12 3-year-olds slated to go 1 1/16 miles over the grass, weather permitting.

finished second, 3 3/4 lengths behind Barbaro, in the Tropical Park Derby. A son of Belong to Me, Wise River earned a career-best 89 Beyer Speed Figure in the race, and trainer Joan Scott is hopeful that with Barbaro out of the picture for a while, her colt can fill the void.

"Barbaro is definitely in a league of his own," Scott said from her winter base at Tampa Bay Downs. "I thought our horse ran well at Calder. He got a good trip; he just wasn't good enough to beat Barbaro. The one concern is that he's a come-from-behind horse, which means he'll need to have some pace to run at on Sunday."

The pace of the Hallandale Beach will be provided by , who led into the stretch before being overtaken by Barbaro en route to his fourth-place finish in the Tropical Park Derby. A son of Concorde's Tune, Mr. Silver came from just off the lead to win the restricted Arthur Appleton Juvenile Turf at Calder during the fall.

Lewis Michael split Wise River and Mr. Silver, finishing third in the Tropical Park Derby. Like Mr. Silver, he was a stakes winner on grass at 2, having captured Churchill Downs's Grand Canyon Handicap in his juvenile finale.

As usual, trainer Todd Pletcher will have a strong presence in the race with , who scored a come-from-behind head decision over the odds-on Yankee Master in Calder's Kris S. on Dec. 10. Up an Octave, a son of Brahms, has posted three bullet works at Palm Meadows since his 2-year-old finale.

The French-bred , a stablemate of Barbaro under trainer Michael Matz's shed, may have the speed to challenge or at least force

Mr. Silver's pace, and is the unknown factor in the Hallandale Beach. Le Plaix is making his U.S. debut and his first start beyond a mile.