05/24/2002 11:00PM

Best of the Rest, in top form, can get his graded win


MIAMI - Despite his many accomplishments and laundry list of victories, Best of the Rest has never won a graded stakes. That situation should be remedied Monday at Calder when he starts as the 123-pound highweight and likely favorite against three rivals in the $100,000 Memorial Day Handicap.

The Memorial Day, which was awarded Grade 3 status for the first time this year, tops a 12-race holiday program that begins at 12:25 p.m.

Best of the Rest has won 11 races over his injury-plagued career, the majority of those victories coming in stakes over his home course at Calder.

But his few attempts to win graded races over the years, both here and at Gulfstream Park, have been stymied either by unlucky trips, injuries, or racetracks that were just not conducive to his style of running.

Earlier this year, Best of the Rest finished fifth after being parked wide throughout in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, and sixth over a speed-favoring Gulfstream strip in the Grade 3 Creme Fraiche Handicap. But Best of the Rest, a 7-year-old homebred owned by Bea Oxenberg, comes into the Memorial Day Handicap at the top of his game once again, following a pair of one-sided overnight handicap victories.

Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr., who has kept Best of the Rest in peak form despite having to stop on him numerous times because knee injuries over the years, has tabbed Cornelio Velasquez to replace regular rider Eibar Coa.

Hal's Hope seeks to rebound from a rough trip in the Grade 3 Texas Mile when he finished a tiring fourth as the 6-5 favorite. Earlier this winter, Hal's Hope passed $1 million in career earnings with victories in the Creme Fraiche and the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap, the second Grade 1 win of his career.

Despite his pair of Grade 1 victories, Hal's Hope, with Roger Velez Jr. aboard, will receive a generous six-pound weight concession from Best of the Rest.

Dancing Guy, who won the 2000 Memorial Day Handicap, and High Ideal round out the lineup.

High Ideal, who has had his best success in the past when on the lead, could hold the key to the race, depending upon whether he challenges Hal's Hope for the early advantage or is taken off the pace by jockey Julio Garcia.

* Jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr., sidelined by a broken arm since late February, began galloping horses on Saturday morning and is expected to resume riding next weekend.