11/04/2004 12:00AM

Black Bart returns to his favorite course


Black Bart was the horse at Turf Paradise last year. He came within a nose of winning the $150,000 Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup Handicap, losing to Irish Warrior, a horse who a couple months earlier had finished fourth won the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Black Bart followed that up with stakes wins in the Down the Isle and Blaze O'Brien. He was going so strong he was sent to Southern California, where he did himself proud winning the Khaled and Quicken Tree and finishing a solid fourth in the Grade 2 American Handicap.

After nearly two months off, Black Bart was unable to duplicate those successes in three straight California turf events, including a dull effort in the California Cup Mile three weeks ago. So he returns to where it all started, as the heavy favorite in Turf Paradise's $40,000 Walter Cluer Handicap on Saturday.

The 7 1/2-furlong turf race has lured a field of nine but most everything seems to hinge on Black Bart. He is 3 for 4 on the Turf Paradise grass course and likely doesn't need to be back to his best form to win this. Sandi Gann, aboard when Black Bart was so sharp here last season, has the return call at high weight of 122 pounds.

Those lined up against Black Bart have little turf form, so it's difficult to say who may mount a challenge. Adroitly Superb, trained by Doug Oliver, does come in off a smashing mile dirt win here Oct. 23. He bounded out to the lead under Scott Stevens and easily defeated Cut of Music, whom he faces again here. Adroitly Superb is at least proven on turf, where he is 3 for 8, including a stakes win at Canterbury Park in July. He carries 118 pounds and again has the services of Stevens.

Cut of Music rallied to beat Adroitly Superb and Instantly, another Saturday entrant, in the Bienvenidos at a mile on the dirt here opening weekend. He did it with a strong rally, which he also displayed when he was unable to catch Adroitly Superb on Oct. 23. Cut of Music does own two turf wins, both over this course.