03/05/2008 12:00AM

Coal Play, Jockey Ridge need to show their stuff


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Coal Play and Jockey Ridge have shown flashes of brilliance during their brief racing careers, as well as moments that have had trainers Nick Zito and Barclay Tagg scratching their heads.

The two obviously talented 3-year-olds will face one another for the first time at Gulfstream Park on Friday going a mile in an intriguing entry-level allowance race that also lured impressive maiden winner Samba Rooster and the stakes-tested Inner Light.

Coal Play, a son of Mineshaft, beat a strong field of maidens to earn his diploma going a mile at second asking during the fall of his 2-year-old campaign before closing out the season finishing second in Calder's What a Pleasure Stakes. But he has disappointed in his two 3-year-old appearances, finishing far back in both the Grade 2 Hutcheson and Grade 2 Swale stakes.

"I'm going to put blinkers on him on Friday to try to make him concentrate better," Zito said of Coal Play, who like division leader War Pass is owned by Robert LaPenta. "He was working too good for those last two races to be true. There's a lot of speed in this field, so we'll try to take him off the pace, and hopefully things will work out well."

Jockey Ridge jumped into the upper echelon of the local 3-year-old division when he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 101 winning his maiden by 4 3/4 lengths going 6 1/2 furlongs on Jan. 18. But he could not repeat the performance when he stretched to a mile four weeks later, finishing a tiring fourth as the even-money favorite behind runaway winner Hey Byrn.

"I don't know what happened last time," said Tagg. "I thought he'd win easily. He's a big, solid horse who has continued to train great, so we'll try again and hope things turn out better this time. I don't know what to expect any more than anyone else."

Like Coal Play, Jockey Ridge is blessed with early speed, but he too might try to rate off the early leaders. He breaks from the outside in a field that will scratch down to no more than six starters, with Crimson Comic to be declared after running on Wednesday.

Samba Rooster led throughout en route to an easy 5 3/4-length maiden win going a mile on Feb. 8, and may again prove the one to catch, having been on the lead in each of his first three starts.

Inner Light has been unable to repeat his big maiden win at Calder on Dec. 15, although he did encounter trouble when seventh in Tampa Bay Downs's Inaugural Stakes on Dec. 29.