03/19/2004 12:00AM

Basketball Court seeks first stakes

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Considering that Basketball Court began his career by running four times against maiden claimers, he certainly didn't appear to be a young colt with much of a future.

Since he was claimed for $25,000 by trainer Henry Walters, however, Basketball Court has improved greatly and has fired his best shot every time, moving up in class in each race.

Basketball Court has a big shot to secure his first stakes victory in Sunday's $60,000 Horatius, a six-furlong stakes for 3-year-olds at Laurel Park.

In four starts for Walters, Basketball Court has won three times and finished a strong second in the six-furlong Dancing Count on New Year's Day. His Beyer Speed Figures have steadily improved from the 61 he earned on Oct. 2 to the pair of 84's he was awarded in his last two starts. In both those races, he came from slightly off the pace. Basketball Court prepped for the Horatius by working a sharp five furlongs in 59.20 seconds at Pimlico.

Three other Maryland-based horses and a two shippers, one from Philadelphia Park and the other from Tampa Bay Downs, have sufficient credentials to win what shapes up as a good betting race.

The best recent Beyer belongs to Matsui, who is based at Philly Park with trainer Derek Ryan but has made his last two starts in New York. Matsui got a 92 Beyer when he was nosed out for second behind runaway winner Redskin Warrior in last month's six-furlong Best Turn. Ryan has since added blinkers, a move that helped Matsui produce two extremely fast workouts since March 5.

Andiamo won his first two starts, both at Tampa and at seven furlongs. He has been off since late January, but has been working nicely for trainer Michael Zweisler, who has had 29 percent success with horses returning from layoffs of less than two months.

Among the Maryland horses, Strongestsovereign could be a surprise. His trainer, Arthur Duffy, was 6 for 10 in stakes races the past two seasons, and Strongestsovereign romped by eight lengths in a restricted sprint at Suffolk Downs last October. Strongestsovereign is likely to be overlooked after finishing last of six in his season's debut against Basketball Court on Feb. 21. In that race, however, Strongestsovereign had to steady at the three-eighths pole.

Hands On, who has yet to finish worse than third in six lifetime starts, and Time Gonnif, who was beaten only a length by Basketball Court last time out, need only move up slightly to be good enough to beat this group.