03/28/2008 12:00AM

Big Brown facing plenty of questions


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - You might expect the first graded stakes route of the season for fillies and mares in New York to draw a full field, but the Grade 3, $100,000 Next Move Handicap drew only five, including three trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.

Wild Hoots has run three big races since getting off the grass, and won a pace battle only to lose the war when run down by Runway Rosie in last month's Rare Treat. Those two are the principal players, while Stage Luck, who won her first three starts in blinkers prior to a flat third as the Rare Treat favorite, figures close if she rebounds.

Meanwhile, in the "Go Figure" Department, Turfway Park's Fairway Fun is not graded and offers only $50,000, but attracted a full field of 12 fillies and mares.

The Fairway Fun field is a diverse group that's been literally all over the map on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces. In addition to the locals, there are recent running lines to be evaluated from Aqueduct, Calder, Churchill, Fair Grounds, Hawthorne, Hollywood Park, Hoosier Park, Laurel, Lingfield, Mountaineer Park, Philadelphia Park, Santa Anita, and Sunland Park.

The winner may be somewhere among Sweetdownthelane, a troubled fourth in last fall's Kentucky Cup Distaff; Delicate Dynamite, who reprises a second-off-the-layoff pattern that led to a placing in the Kentucky Cup Distaff; and Princess Composer, whose 13-for-20 record on all types of footing suggests she could run well over broken bottles if need be.

Princess Composer drew post 12, but that position is not the drawback at Turfway that it is at conventional dirt tracks. In fact, the outside at Turfway is often the best place to be - something that can be gleaned from the comments of Princess Composer's two wire-to-wire wins at the meet: "3 path, driving" and "Out in strip, driving."

If the Florida Derby field remains intact, bettors have tough decisions to make regarding morning-line favorite Big Brown, who drew post 12.

The Florida Derby is the anchor leg of a Magna 5 that shakes out as follows:

Leg 1 - H.E. Johnson Memorial (Laurel, 4:45 p.m.): Forty Crowns finished 10 lengths behind Kaufy Big Shot and Saratoga Lullaby last time, but is a need-the-lead type capable of turning the tables after early trouble ruined his chances at 5-2. Now, he gets the rail and a switch back to Luis Garcia, who engineered a front-running upset aboard the gelding last fall.

Leg 2 - $40,000 claiming (Race 4 at Santa Anita, 5:03 p.m.): In the only non-stakes of the sequence, nine older claimers go 6 1/2 furlongs on the quirky layout that features a right-hand turn, a downhill run, and a brief crossover onto the main track.

Blue Torpedo hasn't raced in over five months but would win this on his best races, notably his first two U.S. starts under the same conditions; he fires fresh.

Other contenders include Hit and Hope, who tries claimers for the first time, and Kingdom Come, who has won over the course from post 12.

Leg 3 - Bonnie Miss (Gulfstream, 5:10 p.m.): Highest Class took a step forward, running third to Indian Blessing and Proud Spell at Fair Grounds. She can mow down Overandabeauty and Robbie's Gal off that top-figure effort and has had ample recovery time (seven weeks) since then.

The other obvious inclusion is Backseat Rhythm, who was steadied early and again on the far turn when wide throughout her seasonal bow on turf.

Leg 4 - San Miguel (Santa Anita, 5:34 p.m.): Leonides and Salute the Sarge were evenly matched in two meetings last year. However, both might have to raise their game a notch if Sea of Pleasure rebounds to his dirt form after an excusable fade in the Baldwin on turf.

Leg 5 - Florida Derby (Gulfstream, 5:45 p.m.): Besides having to deal with post 12, questions surround the inexperienced Big Brown. After two wins six months apart, how will he react coming back in 24 days - and against 11 rivals instead of four who were meant for turf?

The logical alternatives are Fierce Wind, with three straight route wins capped by a decision in the Sam F. Davis over Big Truck, subsequent winner of the Tampa Bay Derby; and Elysium Fields, who is vastly improved since adding blinkers.

In the Fountain of Youth, Elysium Fields was five wide early, three wide to take the lead between calls nearing the quarter pole, and was coming again late after being passed by Cool Coal Man into the stretch.