12/31/2003 1:00AM

Can Supah Blitz run with the big boys?


MIAMI - came into the 2003 Gulfstream Park meeting as a relatively unknown Calder-based 3-year-old. He came out of the meet headed for Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby.

Supah Blitz enters the 2004 Gulfstream meet with a little more notoriety because of his Derby experience, but he must prove again that he is good enough to compete on the national stage.

Supah Blitz will attempt to make his case in Sunday's Grade 3 Appleton Handicap on the turf. The Appleton will be his first start since he finished fourth as the 4-5 favorite in Calder's Miami Beach Breeders' Cup Handicap on Labor Day.

"I gave him some time off after his last start to freshen up and get ready for the winter," said Manny Tortora, who trains Supah Blitz. "I was hoping to have him back to the races before now, but I suffered a little setback when he tied up and missed a couple of works.

"My main goal right now is the Sunshine Millions Turf at the end of the month, and I need to get a race under his belt before that. There is a four-other-than allowance race in the book at the end of the week, but there's no guarantee that race will go. So in all likelihood, I'll use the Appleton as his prep."

Supah Blitz is by Mecke, a Grade 1 winner on turf and dirt. And like his daddy, Supah Blitz has proven to be versatile, although he's done his best work over the main track.

"He'll go either way, although I think he might be a tad better on grass," said Tortora. "I'm not looking at strictly a turf campaign for him this year, but I will start him out that way because I think for $500,000 and being restricted to [California- and Florida-breds], the Sunshine Millions race is a pretty a good spot."

Zito makes Eclipse case for Bird Town

Nick Zito didn't actually watch the La Brea Stakes last weekend, but he still was eager to know what transpired: "I know what happened, and what happened had to be good for us, no?" he asked.

Indeed it was. With favored Elloluv finishing sixth behind the victorious Island Fashion, it appears that Bird Town got a major boost in the running for the 2003 Eclipse Award for top 3-year-old filly. Zito, who trained Bird Town to victories in the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn before she was retired, is quick to say that although Bird Town did not dominate the division, "she should be the champion."

Zito said the Oaks "probably meant the most of any of the races, because every filly that meant something was in it," referring to Elloluv, Lady Tak, Island Fashion, and several others. "Then when we finished second behind Sightseek in the Beldame, I think that probably put us over the top. I mean, Sightseek was the best older mare around before she got beat in the Breeders' Cup, and she was the only horse to beat us in the Beldame. That's the kind of year it was. You didn't have to win every race to be the champion."

Before the La Brea, Elloluv was a possible champion on the strength of a win in the Ashland and a runner-up finish in the BC Distaff. But her poor effort at Santa Anita eliminated her from contention, leaving many Eclipse voters to decide between Bird Town and Six Perfections, the French filly whose lone start in North America was her win in the BC Mile.

Bird Town, owned by Mary Lou Whitney, was retired following the Beldame.

The top three finalists in all Eclipse divisions will be announced Monday by the NTRA.

Hal's Hope is anyone's race

A large, evenly matched field of older handicap horses is shaping up for Saturday's Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap at Gulfstream. Bowman's Band is expected to be the highweight under 118 pounds and will be joined in the lineup by stablemate Puzzlement.

Among the other likely participants are M B Sea, Gander, New York Hero, Stockholder, Vinemeister, Woodmoon, Formal Attire, Roaring Fever, and Senor Amigo. Racing secretary Dave Bailey also listed Well Fancied, Island Skipper, and Newfoundland as potential candidates.

The Hal's Hope is one of three Grade 3 stakes opening day at Gulfstream Park, along with the Mr. Prospector Handicap and the Honey Fox Handicap on grass.

Plesa looks like he'll hold on

Tim Ritvo took one last run at the 2003-04 Tropical Park trainers' title by winning three races on Wednesday's program. But All the Honor's wire-to-wire victory in the Auld Lang Syne Stakes may have sewed up the crown for reigning champion Eddie Plesa Jr., who shared the honor last season with Luis Olivares.

Ritvo trainees Scarlett Memories, Bushwick, and Simply Sir captured the third, fifth and ninth races on Wednesday's card to pull within one victory, 19-18, of Plesa before All the Honor gave Plesa a little extra breathing room heading into the final two days of the meet.

The jockeys' title became a foregone conclusion after Eddie Castro Jr. quickly opened a commanding lead two weeks into the meet and continued to widen his advantage despite losing his five-pound apprentice allowance earlier this month. The only question remaining is whether Castro can eclipse the single season Tropical win mark of 84 set by Cornelio Velasquez in 2002-03. Castro needed five victories over the final two days to break the record after winning two races Wednesday, including the Auld Lang Syne.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee