04/03/2002 12:00AM

Caressing to stalk fave Red n'Gold


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Caressing could upset Red n'Gold if the pace is honest Friday in the $75,000 Bayakoa Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares ushers in the track's Racing Festival of South, when at least one stakes a will be carded daily through the close of the meet April 13.

Highlights of the Festival include the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap and Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom on Saturday, and the Grade 2, $500,000 Arkansas Derby on April 13.

Red n'Gold, a five-length winner of the $50,000 Pippin Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 16, is the probable favorite for the Bayakoa, based on her second-place finish to Ask Me No Secrets last out in the Grade 3, $200,000 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup on March 16.

Caressing finished fourth in the Oaklawn BC while making her first start since November.

In the Oaklawn BC, Ask Me No Secrets had things her own way on the front end, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Red n'Gold, who tracked the pace in second throughout, and was game in the stretch when challenged by third-place finisher and favorite Descapate.

"Her last race was great," trainer Bob Holthus said of Red n'Gold. "It was probably the best race of her life. She kind of really gutted it out to be second."

Holthus, who won the Bayakoa last year with Dorothy Ann, said Red n'Gold has done well since the Oaklawn BC, working four furlongs in a near-bullet 47.80 seconds. She will be ridden by Luis Quinonez.

Leading rider James Lopez has the mount on Caressing, who has also worked well since the Oaklawn BC. "She came out of the race tremendously," said David Vance, who trains Caressing. "She's been very aggressive."

Caressing, a stalker, should get an honest pace in the Bayakoa, and figures to be tracking Red n'Gold, Catchaser, Ornate, and Dorothy Ann, who this year will be saddled by trainer Bobby Barnett. Caressing figures to move forward in her second start of the season, and is the class of the field with earnings of $893,410.

"I look for a top effort," Vance said.

Dorothy Ann, who won this race by a nose last year over Gobedie, returns to racing around two turns Saturday after sprinting in her last two starts. Barnett has given the mount to Calvin Borel.

Another runner to consider is Catchaser, who romped by 8 1/2 lengths in a $30,000 starter allowance last out for trainer Ronnie Campisano. She is well drawn in post 2, and will be ridden by Anthony Lovato.

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