09/11/2002 11:00PM

Bernard's Candy goes long in Needles

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MIAMI - Bernard's Candy, one of the most promising 3-year-olds on the grounds, will get his first real class test on Saturday when he stretches out around two turns for the first time in the $50,000 Needles Stakes.

The Needles was originally carded at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, but several days of heavy rain forced racing secretary Bob Umphrey to switch the race to the main track.

Bernard's Candy had never run on turf so the change in venue is to his advantage. The key question now is whether he can carry his abundant speed around two turns.

Bernard's Candy finished second behind Friendly Frolic in his first start on July 4. Five weeks later he won his maiden by 4 1/2 lengths. He then avenged his debut loss by defeating Friendly Frolic by 3 1/4 lengths on Aug. 24. He has yet to run beyond six furlongs.

A 3-year-old gelded son of Candy Stripes, Bernard's Candy was ridden by Cornelio Velasquez in all three of his starts. But with Velasquez out of town Saturday, Rosemary Homeister Jr. will get the call from trainer Katy Francy-St. Leon.

The much-improved Gemma's Star should give Bernard's Candy his sternest challenge. Gemma's Star has won his last two starts, including a 2 1/2-length decision over Susie's Poker in the Blazing Sword Stakes three weeks ago.

Manny Aguilar, who has been aboard Gemma's Star for both recent wins, rides him again on Saturday.

The late-running Gemma's Star should benefit from what figures to be an honest pace, with both Modest Lover and stretch-out sprinter Bog Hunter expected to provide Bernard's Candy with early company in the Needles.

Susie's Poker will try to snap a streak of three straight second-place finishes that includes his setback at the hands of Gemma's Star in the Blazing Sword.

Class of Seventy comes off a bullet five-furlong work, but will have to improve on a fourth-place finish in the Blazing Sword.

Russian Hand finished sixth in the Blazing Sword after upsetting the Dartsum Stakes 18 days earlier. He, too, would benefit greatly from a hot pace.

Suave King comes off a 4 3/4-length entry-level allowance win on grass, and would have likely benefitted had the Needles remained on the turf.

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