12/27/2001 12:00AM

Calder festivals swing for fences


MIAMI - Good racing is good business.

Every track approaches the marketing of its product differently, even if some of those differences are finely drawn. Calder has enjoyed considerable success with its festival concept. By packaging several stakes on the same program, with or without a theme, a sense of value is prompted, and a touch of excitement is added to the scene. It adds up to improved figures for handle and attendance, which is how Saturday's Grand Slam II program came about.

Ken Dunn, Calder's president and a festival enthusiast throughout his career, organized a Grand Slam package of stakes for midsummer to relieve tedium. It was well accepted, and Dunn moved to expand the concept. Two new festivals were introduced. The Summit of Speed brings together many of the nation's fastest horses, while the Festival of the Sun pays tribute to Florida's breeding industry.

The Grand Slams were moved to Calder's Tropical Park meeting, and their effect has been dramatic. Grand Slam I, on Dec. 8, attracted a crowd of 9,300, a meaningful increase over the average, and the total handle for the day of almost $8 million also represented progress. Another strong showing is anticipated for Saturday's Grand Slam II, and with the meeting's wagering up 8 percent and attendance up by 5 percent, the outlook is decidedly optimistic.

One of the most popular features incorporated into the Grand Slam II program is the $150,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap, a test on the turf at 1 1/2 miles that has produced many outstanding renewals. Chris Clement proposes to win it with a horse who will turn 8 next week. But Honor Glide, a son of the Danzig stallion Honor Grades, is not your average old-timer. For one thing, he has earned almost $1.4 million. He has never raced at Calder, but he can be effective as a traveler.

In September he went to Woodbine in Toronto to capture the Niagara Handicap in course-record time. He disappointed in Keeneland's subsequent Sycamore Handicap, but has trained well for Clement in recent weeks at Payson Park near Palm Beach.

Honor Glide races for the partnership of Robert Schaedle, an Atlanta real estate executive, and Bonnie Heath of Ocala, Fla., whose late father was co-owner of Needles, the 1956 winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. Trainer Clement is one of the country's most successful young horsemen. He is currently among the top 10 trainers in the national standings with purses of $5.5 million.

"Honor Glide is probably not as good as he once was," Clement advises."But he can still be effective and he has come up to the race the right way. It won't be easy. The McKnight is always competitive because there are so few opportunities toward the end of the season that we all run in the same races."