01/17/2003 12:00AM

'Brainstorm' looks best value-wise


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The field for Sunday's $100,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap at Gulfstream Park has a very familiar look to it. Ten of the 12 starters met three weeks ago in Calder's Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap, including Serial Bride, Rochester, and Whata Brainstorm, the three horses who appear to have the best chance of taking home Sunday's winner's share of $60,000.

The Mac Diarmida, at 1 3/8 miles on turf, serves as a major prep for the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap, which will be run at the same distance on Feb. 16.

Serial Bride, Rochester, and Whata Brainstorm finished second, third, and seventh behind Man From Wicklow in the McKnight. Of the three, Whata Brainstorm could show the most improvement and will likely offer the best value.

Whata Brainstorm is on the comeback trail after suffering a sesamoid injury following his second-place finish in a money allowance race here last winter.

"He broke a little flake off his sesamoid, which took several months to heal, and then he got sick on me when he was almost ready to start back this summer at Saratoga," said trainer Jim Picou. "As a result, I kind of ran him into shape, and I thought his last two races were very good. I think he's back at the top of his game right now, and we've already seen what he can do over this turf course."

Whata Brainstorm won the Grade 2

Pan American Handicap here in 2001, four weeks after missing by a neck to Subtle Power in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup.

Serial Bride was beaten a length in the McKnight after prompting the pace and forging to a short lead in the early stretch. Now 6, Serial Bride did not run a bad race during a 2002 campaign that included a victory in the Manila Stakes at The Meadowlands in his only previous try at the Mac Diarmida distance.

Eibar Coa, who rode Serial Bride to victory in the Manila as well as in a second-level allowance race here last winter, will be back aboard on Sunday.

Rochester rallied belatedly to finish third, 1 1/4 lengths behind Serial Bride, as the 2-1 favorite in the McKnight. That running style should enhance his chances in Sunday's rematch over a course that has been extremely favorable to late-running horses during the opening two weeks of this meeting.

Whitmore's Conn, Mr. Pleasentfar, Macaw, Riddlesdown, Just Listen, Williams News, and Gritty Sandie also made their last starts in the McKnight. The new faces are Quiet Ruler and Marquette.

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