11/15/2003 1:00AM

Best of the Rest goes out in style

Jean Raftery/Turfphotos
In what was likely the final race of his career, 8-year-old Best of the Rest wins the Carl G. Rose Classic for the second straight year.

MIAMI - One couldn't blame trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. for getting just a little emotional after leading Best of the Rest into the winner's circle following his 1 1/4-length victory over Tour of the Cat in defense of his title in Saturday's $200,000 Carl G. Rose Classic.

The Rose marked Best of the Rest's first start since his owner-breeder and Plesa's close friend, Bernie Oxenberg, died two weeks earlier.

"Without a doubt this was as emotional a win as any in my career," Plesa said, his eyes reddened and voice cracking following winner's circle festivities for the Rose. "If a person runs across someone like Bernie once in his life he's lucky. We've been friends for nearly 30 years and I've trained for him on a regular basis for the last 12 years. If I had to single out any one person for the success I've had in this business it would be Bernie."

Oxenberg owned and bred Best of the Rest along with his wife, Bea. An 8-year-old son of Skip Trial, Best of the Rest has been plagued by infirmities throughout his career. The Rose marked his 16th victory in 31 career starts and pushed his earnings to just less than $1.4 million.

"He's been an amazing horse throughout his career," said Plesa. "There's no telling how good he could have been had he been sound. And he showed his heart out there again today."

The Rose was the feature event on Saturday's Florida Million Day program at Calder.

Carrying high weight of 121 pounds, including jockey Eibar Coa, Best of the Rest stalked the pace of Tour of the Cat from the outset of the 1 1/8-mile Carl G. Rose, engaged Tour of the Cat down the backstretch,and then gradually drew clear in the final furlong.

Best of the Rest returned $3.80 after racing the distance in 1:39.42 seconds over a fast track. He completed a $1 all-stakes pick four worth $264.40.

"There's a good possibility this was his last race," said Plesa. "I'd like him to retire sound and the risk of running him again is just not worth it."

Best of the Rest will stand stud next season at Farnsworth Farm.

Scapade defeats elders in Heubeck

Scapade, one of three 3-year-old fillies in the field, outfinished the older and more experienced Redoubled Miss to register a 1 3/4-length decision in the $200,000 Elmer Heubeck Distaff Handicap. Smok' n Frolic finished a tiring fifth as the 3-5 favorite.

Scapade was jockey Julio Garcia's second consecutive stakes victory. He also won the Jack Price Juvenile aboard Sir Oscar.

Scapade vied for the lead around the first turn, was eased back by Garcia entering the backstretch, then split rivals near the eighth pole and edged away from Redoubled Miss in the final sixteenth. Redoubled Miss rallied from mid-pack to join the leaders near the eighth pole but could not sustain her bid.

Scapade went 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.42 and paid $18.20.

Overall wagering on the second annual Florida Million card totaled $6,983,597. Ontrack attendance was 9,345. Both figures were up from last year.