08/14/2001 11:00PM

Best of the Rest back again


MIAMI - Eddie Plesa Jr. celebrated his sixth Florida Stallion Series victory last Saturday when O'Rocky rallied to capture the second division of the Dr. Fager Stakes. Plesa may find additional reason to celebrate in the coming weeks with the return of the fragile but extremely talented Best of the Rest, who is nearly ready to launch the fourth comeback of his injury- plagued career.

Best of the Rest has been on the verge of stardom on several occasions only to be stopped each time by knee problems. The latest setback occurred this winter shortly after Best of the Rest, a 6-year-old son of Skip Trial, rallied to finish a good second against high-priced optional claiming competition at Gulfstream Park in his first start in nearly 17 months.

"He got another knee fracture, but this time it was in a different spot in the back of the knee," said Plesa who has suffered through frustration after frustration with Best of the Rest along with owner Bea Oxenberg, who also campaigns O'Rocky.

"It's just a shame what this horse has gone through because he's got so much ability. But with all his problems he still shows so much enthusiasm for the game when he goes out to work."

Best of the Rest has started just 13 times, winning seven races and running worse than third just once, in his only appearance on grass. Best of the Rest has won four stakes, including the 1998 Thanksgiving Day Handicap in which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 111 trouncing Blazing Sword by nearly nine lengths and the 1999 Spend a Buck Handicap, which he captured by 9 1/2 lengths over a wet track.

"He's one more work away from running and has really been training well," said Plesa. "He went five furlongs in 1:00 and change and galloped out in 1:14 two works back. I slowed him down a bit for his work earlier this week," Plesa said of a five-furlong move in 1:02.80.

If all goes well, Plesa is pointing Best of the Rest for the Not Surprising Handicap, an overnight stakes carded at seven furlongs later this month.

As for O'Rocky, Plesa said "he went into the Dr. Fager like a tiger and came out of the race even better."

O'Rocky has now won three of his last four starts and will make his next appearance in the seven-furlong Affirmed Division of the Florida Stallion Series on Sept. 1.

While Plesa is a veteran of the Stallion Series wars, trainer Henry Collazo and jockey Roger Velez combined to win the opening division of the Dr. Fager with Carey's Gold in their first Stallion Series starts. The undefeated colt and his connections will put their unblemished Stallion Series records on the line against O'Rocky in the Affirmed.

Hal's Hope may stay on home turf

Owner-trainer Harold Rose is uncertain what will be next for Hal's Hope, who finished third after setting the pace in Monmouth Park's Salvator Mile, a Grade 3, on Aug. 5.

"He ran a good race," Rose said of his homebred's performance in the Salvator. "He was pushed on the lead from the start, disposed of his early challenger, but then got picked up late. He's back home now and I think I'd like to keep him right here if I can. I'm considering running him back on the turf in the next stakes," Rose said in reference to the $150,000 Miami Mile Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 3.

Top filly sprinters to face off

Friday's feature will match two of the premier members of the local filly and mare sprint division, Penny Blues and Silk Concorde, who will take on five others in the $32,000 Vivace Handicap at six furlongs.

Penny Blues is looking to rebound from a disappointing second-place performance as the 4-5 favorite in the five-furlong Cool Air Handicap on Aug. 4 and should favor the added distance of the Vivace. Penny Blues, a Pentelicus filly, finished a troubled fourth behind Dream Supreme in the Princess Rooney Handicap three weeks earlier.

Silk Concorde will take on older horses for the first time in her career. She, too, is coming off a subpar effort, a tiring ninth in the Grade 3 Azalea Breeders' Cup Stakes. A daughter of Concorde's Tune, she won the Susan's Girl division of the Florida Stallion Series at 2 and the Hurricane Bertie Stakes here earlier this meet.