08/18/2004 11:00PM

Buzz on Caribbean Cruiser


FARMINGTON, N.Y. - Donna Biretta, who trains the much-heralded juvenile colt Caribbean Cruiser, says she is very superstitious before a race and does not like talking too much about a horse. On the Finger Lakes backside this week, there have been countless others doing the talking about Caribbean Cruiser.

Caribbean Cruiser is the 3-5 morning-line favorite in the $112,000 Aspirant Stakes for 2-year-old New York-breds at Finger Lakes on Saturday. Since his impressive maiden win at Saratoga on July 30, Caribbean Cruiser has been pointed to the Aspirant Stakes, prompting many others to stay away and leaving a field of only six.

The Aspirant is the eighth race on Saturday and is the last of three stakes races on the card for New York-breds. The $50,000 Wine Country Handicap for 3-year-olds and up is the sixth race. The seventh race is the $126,000 Lady Finger Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and drew a full field of 15 horses. All races are run at six furlongs.

In his debut, Caribbean Cruiser broke to the lead in a statebred maiden race under Chin Yang and never relinquished his position, winning by two lengths and covering 5 1/2 furlongs in a quick 1:04.51. Two races before, a similar race went about two seconds slower. The winner of that race, Big Apple Daddy, also returns in the Aspirant.

Biretta said she was expecting a good performance from Caribbean Cruiser in his debut.

"He came to me in May, and he had a pretty good foundation already," she said. "I was expecting him to run well. He had done everything we wanted him to do up to the race."

Caribbean Cruiser's breeding should be familiar to Finger Lakes veterans. His dam, Jack Betta Be Rite, was one of the best fillies to be stabled at this track. There is a stakes race named after her at Finger Lakes, going on its 10th running. Star Track Farms owned the dam, and it bred and owns Caribbean Cruiser. Jack Betta Be Rite won two stakes at 2, including the Lady Finger Stakes in 1989, and five stakes at 3.

Even though Caribbean Cruiser has started only once, Biretta said the colt has shown great maturity.

"He's a class act. He's very mature at a young age," she said.

Top Shoter prohibitive favorite

Top Shoter enters the $50,000 Wine Country Handicap off a convincing win versus open allowance company at Saratoga on July 31, and is the 1-5 morning-line favorite in an expected five-horse field. Charlton Baker, trainer and owner of the 5-year-old gelding, said Top Shoter has recovered from shin problems that have hurt his consistency in the past, and his three races this year are compelling evidence that he has gotten better with age.

Coming off a five-month layoff, Top Shoter drew away in the slop to a nearly six-length victory in the George W. Barker Stakes at Finger Lakes May 31. He was a close second in an open stakes at Mountaineer Park, and then returned to win at Saratoga in the mud.

"He was so sharp for that race," said regular jockey Paul Nicol of the Saratoga win. "On the turn, he just took off when I asked him to go."

Top Shoter's main obstacle may the weight he must carry on Saturday. He has been assigned 126 pounds, which is 11 to 15 more than any of his rivals. Baker was extremely unhappy with the weight assignment.

"It's a grave injustice," he said. "The racing office based that weight off one conditioned allowance at Saratoga."

Racing secretary Joe Colasacco defended the weight assignment. "I think it's a fair weight, enough to make the race competitive," he said.

Colasacco added that the weights were made off the nominations, and that the other highweights did not enter.

Big field for Lady Finger

An auxiliary gate and field betting may be needed in the $126,000 Lady Finger Stakes, as a full field of 15 horses are entered. The main gate, and the tote board, can only hold 12 horses. It is likely that the filly out in the 15 hole, Royal Fudge, ends up as the favorite.

Royal Fudge ships in from Ken McPeek's Saratoga barn. She was running in open company in Kentucky to begin her career, winning her maiden at Churchill in her third start. She was fourth in a stakes race at Arlington July 31, and should find the New York-bred competition easier. Royal Fudge, a $200,000 September Keeneland yearling purchase, is the most seasoned horse in the field with four starts. Heberto Castillo Jr. comes in to ride.

* Don Corleone, the 59-1 upset winner of the New York Derby here on July 17, will ship to Saratoga on Saturday to prepare for Wednesday's Albany Stakes, according to trainer Sal Iorio Jr. The Albany is the third leg of the New York OTBs' Big Apple Triple for New York-bred 3-year-olds.