01/18/2003 12:00AM

Best of the Rest peaks for Classic


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Best of the Rest served notice he will be a force to reckon with in the Sunshine Millions Classic after working five furlongs in 59.60 seconds at Calder on Saturday.

"That's the second time in two weeks he's worked in 59 and change, which is above and beyond for him," trainer Eddie Plesa said. "Usually he goes around there in around a minute and change or 1:01. I don't think he could be coming up to this race any sharper."

Best of the Rest, who has won half of his 26 career starts for Plesa and owner-breeder Bea Oxenburg, celebrated his eighth birthday earlier this month. But Plesa said he believes he's still as good as ever.

"I'm just hoping he can be like Sir Bear and still win major stakes races at 8 and even 9 years old," Plesa said.

Saturday's $1 million Classic will also give Best of the Rest a chance to avenge the setback he suffered at the hands of The Judge Sez Who in Calder's Fred W Hooper Handicap.

"I think of all the horses in the field for the Classic, I fear The Judge Sez Who the most," Plesa said. "We've beaten each other once apiece, and the loser had an excuse in both cases. I just hope we can come out on top in the rubber match."

Plesa will be forced to make a rider change for the Classic. Jerry Bailey has ridden Best of the Rest in each of his last three starts but will be in California on Sunshine Millions Day. Plesa has lined up Eibar Coa, the meet's leading jockey, who won the Unbrided Handicap aboard Best of the Rest here last spring.

"I'm getting the meet's top jockey at the moment and a rider who knows this horse as well as anybody," Plesa said. "Now all I'm looking for is an honest pace so we don't have to use our horse more than we'd like during the early stages of the race."

Hills sends two on Millions Day

Trainer Tim Hills will have an entrant on each coast on Sunshine Millions Day. He's shipping Stormy Roman to Santa Anita for the Turf and keeping Wish It Were home for the Filly and Mare Sprint.

Hills said he is excited about the prospect of making the trip to California for the Turf.

"This is going to be a real adventure for me," Hills said. "I've never run a horse out there. In fact I've only been to California once in my life to vacation in San Diego. I just hope I don't get there and begin wondering what I'm doing there.

"After looking over the past performances for the race I really think my horse belongs," Hills added. "He's a young and improving horse, and if he runs his best race, he should be very competitive in that field."

Wish It Were is also lightly raced. The stakes-winning filly is coming into the Filly and Mare Sprint off a second-place finish behind the odds-on Slews Final Answer in Calder's Auld Lyne Syne Stakes.

"Her last race was a lot better than it looks on paper because she took the worst of trips and finished up real well," Hills said. "And that filly of [Bill] Mott's looks like something special. This will be my filly's third start following a layoff, and she's sitting on go now. I like her very much. I'm just sorry I won't be here for the race.

Hills has gotten off to a hot start at this session, winning his fourth race of the meet when sending out Mooji Moo to an easy 7 1/4-length upset victory over A New Twist and Silk Concorde in Friday's fourth race. He is currently tied with Dale Romans for second place in the standings behind runaway leader Mark Shuman.

"I was pleasantly surprised by her performance," Hills said. "She's very fast, and it was a quirky track Friday. Speed was looking good."

Goldfine scratches Senor Swinger

Trainer Mickey Goldfine decided to hold his 3-year-old prospect Senor Swinger out of Saturday's fifth race, a first level allowance event carded at 1 1/16 miles.

"He had a little respiratory thing, I missed one day of training, and it just wasn't the right thing to do to run him today," Goldfine said on Saturday morning. "It's nothing serious. I'll just try to make a similar race on the 31st."

Senor Swinger was an impressive winner of his career debut at Hawthorne in November, and Goldfine said he is hopeful the gray colt will ultimately prove a Kentucky Derby candidate.

"I'm anxious to run him. I didn't want him to go this long between starts, and he'd been working really sharp for this race," Goldfine said. "But there are still plenty of races and plenty of time left if he's good enough."

- Purses for all maiden special weight and allowance races will be increased by $2,000 effective Jan. 25, director of racing Dave Bailey said Saturday.