Updated on 09/17/2011 8:49PM

Coast Line's chances far exceed Bear Fan's

Offlee Wild, unraced since June 19, returns in Saturday's Campbell Handicap at Laurel.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The most interesting stakes action in the Northeast this holiday weekend takes place at Laurel Park, starting Saturday with the John B. Campbell Handicap for older males and the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap for filly and mare sprinters. And the contenders are familiar to followers of the New York circuit.

The pace scenario in the Campbell is clear: Coast Line will go for the lead from his inside post, and seven others have nine furlongs to catch him.

Coast Line has come a long way in a relatively short time. After being laid off for well over a year following his debut as a juvenile, he has won four starts in a row at four different distances, over three different racing surfaces, beneath three different riders. The tip-off to the streak came in his return, when in a maiden claimer he earned a Beyer Speed Figure (94) more commonly associated with advanced allowance runners.

Coast Line then rolled through three allowance conditions at Aqueduct - at seven furlongs on the main track, and in a pair of two-turn routes on the inner track.

Coast Line showed a new dimension the first time he went two turns, on Dec, 16, when he bobbled at the start and was five lengths behind the leaders and four wide on the clubhouse turn. He sustained a wide move and won a hard-fought decision while changing leads belatedly in deep stretch.

Three weeks later, on one of those stone-cold golden rail speed days the inner track is famous for, Coast Line broke cleanly and set an easy pace on the inside, opened a lengthy advantage, and cantered home an easy winner.

Even though Coast Line enjoyed optimal conditions last time, there is no denying his terrific form. The same cannot be said of his two principal threats, Ole Faunty and Offlee Wild, who have not run since last summer.

Ole Faunty won last year's Campbell with a 109 Beyer, a figure he repeated a few weeks later when running second to Peace Rules in the Oaklawn Handicap. The wheels fell off after that, however, as he finished last in the Pimlico Special and the Cornhusker by a total of 57 lengths. Priming horses to fire right away off long layoffs is not a specialty of Ole Faunty's trainer, Elliott Walden, at least not in his current statistical sample, which stands at 0 for 18.

Offlee Wild has not been out since showing vast improvement to win both starts off a trainer change to Richard Dutrow Jr. last year, including a photo-finish win over Funny Cide in the Mass 'Cap. His profile is strikingly similar to that of stablemate Saint Liam, who also showed raw talent early as a 3-year-old, then was laid off and given over to Dutrow before realizing his full potential.

But whereas Saint Liam reeled off Beyers of 108, 113, 108, 114, and 110 in five starts as a 4-year-old, Offlee Wild raced only twice for Dutrow before going on the shelf again. Dutrow is solid with long layoffs, winning at over a 30 percent clip, but a recent one-month gap in published workouts at Palm Meadows suggests Offlee Wild will be something less than 100 percent on Saturday.

The tentative exacta plan is to key Coast Line top and bottom with Ole Faunty, Offlee Wild, and Hydrogen. Hydrogen is a New York-based horse who ran a 105 Beyer off a trainer change to Bruce Levine last fall, when he returned from a short layoff. He returns from a similar layoff heading into the Campbell.

In the Fritchie, defending champ Bear Fan is following the same schedule that led to her win as the even-money favorite last year after losing as the chalk in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint first time back from a layoff.

Some things are different this time. Bear Fan is another year older, and there is no guarantee she has to be as good at 6 as she was last year, when she won four stakes, including a track-record romp in the Vagrancy at Belmont Park.

Because of last year's success, she is also carrying more weight this time - 121 pounds, giving from three to 10 pounds to each of her nine rivals.

Another warning sign is that Bear Fan is not a good breaker. In her last 10 starts she has been slowest from the gate four times, including in her return at Gulfstream three weeks ago, and she has broken in the front half of her field only twice.

Bear Fan may overcome her Achilles' heel, though, because for a Grade 2 sprint there is remarkably little early speed in the Fritchie lineup. Sensibly Chic, coming off a freakish win over the track with a 108 Beyer that was 17 points better than her previous top, figures to set the pace from her rail post with Bear Fan stalking outside, a situation that has all the earmarks of a two-speed number.

That's the play, anyway. An exacta box of Sensibly Chic and Bear Fan, pressed with an extra ticket of Sensibly Chic over Bear Fan, in the hopes that Sensibly Chic has simply turned into a new horse at Laurel.