01/05/2006 12:00AM

Can they knock off Strategically?

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Strategically has gone from being a mere claimer to the leading turf horse on the grounds, and he looks to affirm his status in Saturday's $40,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Handicap at Turf Paradise. The one-mile turf race, which goes as the fifth race on a nine-race card, has lured a field of nine.

The Cotton Fitzsimmons is named after the late former coach and executive of the NBA's Phoenix Suns who was also an avid horseplayer and fixture in the Turf Paradise Turf Club. Fitzsimmons's widow, JoAnn, will make the trophy presentation.

Strategically has proved a tremendous bargain. Claimed by trainer Jerry Atkin for owner Mary Shoemaker for $12,500 in November 2004, Strategically has won six races since coming into Atkin's care. He has won four in a row, including the Walter R. Cluer (on grass), Patchy Groundfog (grass) and Black Mountain (dirt), and is surely the leading candidate for horse of the meeting honors.

Strategically has won 4 of 6 on this course and a five-furlong bullet work here in 58.80 Monday signals his readiness. Steve Gomez has the call at 124 pounds, and the pair must give from six to 11 pounds to their eight opponents.

Should Strategically be toppled, Lydia's Legacy may be the one to do it. Lydia's Legacy dueled on the lead and ended up second to Strategically in the Black Mountain Handicap on the dirt here Dec. 10. Lydia's Legacy boasts plenty of speed and has won twice on turf. Joel Campbell rides for trainer David Morse at 117 pounds.

America West appears to have blossomed with a move to turf. He finished third in his first turf start, which came at Turf Paradise Nov. 7, and romped over allowance foes on this course Nov. 22 and did it again Dec. 11. Wade Rini rides at 116 pounds.

Saturday also marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Turf Paradise. To commemorate the event the track will offer 50-cent grandstand admission, hot dogs, and soft drinks. Commemorative T-shirts will be given away.