12/27/2001 12:00AM

Best of the Rest has been here before


MIAMI - Three years ago, Best of the Rest came into the Fred W. Hooper Handicap as the odds-on favorite off a pair of impressive stakes victories, only to chip a knee while finishing a disappointing third in a race that was to serve as his final prep for the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

The story will be eerily similar, but hopefully with a happier ending, when Best of the Rest returns to Calder on Saturday as the highweight and overwhelming favorite in this year's edition of the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Hooper.

As was the case in 1998, Best of the Rest enters the Hooper off two impressive stakes wins and once again a big effort would punch his ticket into the Donn on Feb. 9.

"I try not to dwell on the past," said trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. "Right now he's as good as ever. Obviously this is an important race and he figures to get tested, but the Donn is our ultimate goal."

Best of the Rest has handily defeated most of his seven rivals in the Hooper but not Kiss a Native, who appears to have the only realistic chance of upsetting the favorite.

Best of the Rest won all three of his starts, including the In Reality Stakes here at 2 and was a multiple Grade 3 winner in Canada last season. He has won only once in five starts this year, but comes off a good second turning back to seven furlongs in the Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap on Dec. 15.

Best of the Rest will be ridden by Eibar Coa, who will also be aboard Gold Mover, highweight and likely favorite for Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Chaposa Springs Handicap. The seven-furlong dash drew a field of 10 fillies and mares.

Gold Mover hopes to end her outstanding 3-year-old campaign the same way she began it nearly 12 months ago - with a stakes victory.

Gold Mover won the Cadillacing and Grade 3 Forward Gal stakes at Gulfstream Park last January and finished second in the Grade 2 Davona Dale. Her form tailed off in the spring, but following a brief freshening Gold Mover got her game back in high gear as evidenced by her 2 1/2-length victory over Dat You Miz Blue in the Floral Park Handicap.

Gold Mover will be making her debut over the Calder track, which could work to the advantage of several of the locals in the lineup, including the stretch-running pair of Coolbythepool and Sugar N Spice. Coolbythepool is trained by Marty Wolfson, who not only trained Chaposa Springs but also England's Rose, who won this race a year ago.