12/04/2004 1:00AM

Better Than Bonds shows grit

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Skip Smith
Better Than Bonds takes the lead near the wire to win the What A Pleasure at Calder.

MIAMI, Fla. - Better Than Bonds looked like the class of the What a Pleasure on paper and made the most of the opportunity, rallying to defeat longshot G P's Black Knight by three-quarter lengths to capture the $100,000 stakes on Saturday's Grand Slam I card at Calder.

A 2-year-old son of Sweetsouthernsaint, Better Than Bonds had finished behind Rockport Harbor, Flamenco, and Defer in his last two starts. The competition was not so stiff in the What a Pleasure, a 1 1/16-mile race, but Better Than Bonds had to work hard before finally securing the victory.

Better Than Bonds, with Jockey Brice Blanc aboard, steadied and dropped to the rear of the pack approaching the opening turn of the What a Pleasure. He steadied again nearing the far turn, then rallied five wide to eventually catch and overtake G P's Black Knight. The latter gained the lead around the second turn and held gamely when challenged by Better Than Bonds before succumbing in late stretch.

Better Than Bonds covered the distance in 1:48.90 and paid $4.40. D'court's Speed, who vied with Better Than Bonds for favoritism throughout most of the wagering, saved ground throughout and finished fifth.

"I was a little anxious during the early stages of the race," said trainer Robert Reinacher. "It was a little reminiscent of the Nashua when he got in trouble. He's been keeping very good company lately, and I think this win could be a nice confidence builder for him."

Reinacher said he will consider either the Aventura or Holy Bull stakes at Gulfstream Park for Better Than Bonds's next start.

Leona's Knight pulled off the biggest surprise on the Grand Slam I card when she withstood a stretch-long challenge from 1-2 favorite Smuggler to post a three-quarter-length victory in the $100,000 Three Ring Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.

Leona's Knight paid $38.60 and was the toughest leg of an All-Stakes pick-4 that returned $4,557.50 for a $1 ticket.

Leona's Knight and jockey Carlos Olivero used the inside post to good advantage, quickly sprinting clear from Embassey Gardens into the first turn. The pair slowed the pace to 49.77 for the half and 1:15.34 for six furlongs, then had enough leg to hold off Smuggler, who was previously undefeated.

The victory was the first stakes win for trainer Barry Rose, who took over the family stable upon the death of his father, Harold Rose, in Sept. 2003.

"We always had confidence in this filly, and seeing her on the lead with those fractions I said if she's every going to do it, today's the day," Rose said.