05/18/2002 12:00AM

Calder: Wertz wins Carterista

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MIAMI, Fla. - Wertz, by reputation a front-running turf horse, showed his versatility on Saturday when rallying from off the pace over a sloppy main track to defeat three rivals in Calder's $75,000 Carterista Handicap.

Wertz had won 11 of his previous 13 victories on grass, three of the wins coming in succession at the 2002 Gulfstream Park meet. But when heavy rains forced management to switch the Carterista from the turf to the wet main course, trainer Joe Calascibetta opted to keep Wertz in the race, which scratched down from 12 scheduled starters to a field of four.

Julio Garcia, who replaced Wertz's regular rider Eibar Coa, was content to sit second behind the pacesetting Viva Pentelicus in the opening five furlongs of the 1 1/16-mile race.

Wertz drew alongside the leader and assumed command approaching the far turn, then drew off with authority to defeat runner-up Lavender's Lad by 8 1/4 lengths. Tour of the Cat, the 3-5 favorite, made a mild run entering the stretch then flattened out to finish third. Viva Pentelicus stopped to a walk and was eased across the wire.

Wertz returned $6.60 after covering the distance in 1:46.49 seconds.

"Originally, we thought about scratching, but as more and more horses came out I thought our chances improved so we decided to give it a try," said Calascibetta who trains Wertz for the Sunshine Thoroughbred Corp.