12/30/2004 12:00AM

Champ well-rested for title defense

Tom Cooley
Above the Wind, upsetting the 2003 Pelican, returns Saturday off a three-month break.

OLDSMAR, Fla. - Those who liked the chances of Above the Wind in last season's Pelican Stakes were rewarded with a $132.40 win payoff after he won the six-furlong sprint by a length. While the final result of Saturday's Pelican renewal may well be the same, Above the Wind figures to have much more support at the windows when he tops a field of 14 runners entered in the $60,000 New Year's Day feature.

has been off since September, as have many runners in the barn of his trainer, Ron Allen Sr., who gave many of his horses a breather in October and November. But Above the Wind has given every indication he is going to be a force in his return, knocking off three bullet works from four morning moves leading up to Saturday's race, including a blistering half-mile in 47.80 seconds on Dec. 11 and a five-furlong move of 1:00.60 on Dec. 23.

Above the Wind followed his Pelican upset last year with another win here in the seven-furlong Super Stakes. He also took the Wolverine Stakes over statebreds in June at Great Lakes Downs. Above the Wind has captured 17 of 43 lifetime starts and has earnings of more than $341,000. Five of those wins have come over the Tampa strip.

Above the Wind will most likely go off as the favorite, but trainer Gerald Bennett is hoping Avid Skier will be able to step up and replace his now-retired Secret Romeo as an archrival of Above the Wind. Secret Romeo and Above the Wind battled on several occasions, including the Pelican last year, when Secret Romeo finished a fast-closing second.

"Ronnie's horse is as tough as they come sprinting over this track, but I think Avid Skier's got the talent to challenge him," Bennett said. "He's back sprinting, which I think is his best game. He finished like a freight train in the five-furlong prep for the Pelican and went the last eighth very fast. Above the Wind's the horse to catch, but I'm hopeful we'll give him a run for his money."

Other noteworthy entrants include Sing Me Back Home, a well-traveled winner of 10 races, including a sprint stakes at Monmouth over the summer, and Long Term Success, a winner of 6 of 13 starts in 2004 while racing in Canada and on the New Jersey circuit.