04/04/2007 11:00PM

BC Dirt Mile hopeful tops Artax lineup

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - With the Breeders' Cup in his own backyard this year at Monmouth Park, trainer Jim Ryerson would love to have his multiple graded stakes winner Park Avenue Ball on track for a possible appearance in the big event. The question is which race to point for.

Ryerson has decided to start Park Avenue Ball's 2007 campaign in sprint races. Park Avenue Ball began well enough, rallying to finish second behind the undefeated Half Ours in the seven-furlong Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Handicap at Gulfstream Park on March 3. Ryerson brings him back Saturday as the likely favorite and starting highweight going 7 1/2 furlongs in the $100,000 Artax Handicap.

Park Avenue Ball has had his greatest success at Monmouth, where he won the Grade 3 Long Branch Handicap in 2005 and the Grade 3 Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap in a field that included Master Command in 2006. Both races were around two turns, although the versatile Park Avenue Ball has run well at distances of under a mile.

"Now that they've added a middle distance race to the Breeders' Cup program we have lots of options," said Ryerson, referring to the new BC Dirt Mile, which will have its inaugural running in 2007.

"He's always sprinted well, even though he is effective at distances up to a mile and one-eighth," Ryerson said. "I was real happy with his first start, and his performance Saturday will probably dictate how and where we'll go from here, although at the moment my first major goal is the Salvator Mile at Monmouth."

Park Avenue Ball will carry high weight of 120 pounds in the Artax, including regular rider Chris Decarlo.

Paradise Dancer may prove the one to catch. The 7-year-old was haltered by his present connections for $40,000 out of a third-level optional claiming win at Calder on Aug. 4, and he returned immediate dividends by winning a pair of overnight stakes while earning Beyer Speed Figures of 104 and 106. But he has not started since finishing second behind Weigelia in the Grade 3 Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap on Dec. 16, nor has he hit the board in four tries at Gulfstream.

Istan returns to Gulfstream off a game win by a head in Tampa Bay Downs's 1 1/16-mile Bud Challenger Stakes on March 10. A son of Gone West, Istan finished second under high-priced optional claiming conditions here earlier in the meet.

Whos Crying Now, B. B. Best, and Sampson's Son complete the lineup.