07/02/2008 12:00AM

Croton Road needs clean trip, turf


MIAMI - Trainer Ron Spatz figures to have plenty of anxious moments both before and after the start of Friday's $36,000 Mecke Stakes at Calder.

Spatz, who trains Croton Road, will first have to worry whether the rain that has pelted the area this week will subside long enough to keep the 1 1/8-mile Mecke on the turf. If so, he then must hope Croton Road gets a little better position around the clubhouse turn than he did during the early stages of his recent fourth-place finish in the Big Bubble Stakes.

Spatz can blame both the weather and an unlucky trip for each of Croton Road's last two defeats. On May 24, Croton Road was in the paddock and already saddled when the Blazing Sword Stakes was taken off the grass due to a sudden downpour that soaked the track. In the Big Bubble, Croton Road broke a bit slowly, then was hung four- and five-wide the entire trip before finishing fourth, just 1 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Mysterious Peintre.

"The owners were in the paddock and he had the saddle on his back so we decided just to go ahead and let him run after the Blazing Sword came off the grass, which probably was a mistake," said Spatz. "He hopped in the air a bit at the break in his last start and wound up getting hung wide and a little further back than where he's most comfortable. He's really at his best when he can get into the race right from the start. He's not the type of horse who will make a long, sustained rally from too far back."

Croton Road, beaten less than three lengths in a pair of graded stakes last winter at Gulfstream Park, will reunite Friday with jockey Manny Aguilar, who was aboard when the homebred won The Vid Stakes here in August.

"He's supposed to beat this kind of field at his best," said Spatz. "I'm just hoping he gets a clean trip so I can get a true assessment of where we stand with Croton Road at the present time."

If the Mecke goes as scheduled on grass, Quistopher and Otis Ridge are the ones to beat.

Quistopher finished second, beaten a head, after setting the pace in the Big Bubble and is in peak form. Otis Ridge has won his last three starts by an average margin of more than five lengths, but takes a big step up in class making his stakes debut on Friday.

Should the Mecke come off the turf, the field figures to scratch down to no more than four or five starters, with Zoobstick likely inheriting the role of favorite.

While the Mecke is the main event on the holiday card, the ninth race may be the most attractive of the day, bringing together two of the more exciting 3-year-old filly prospects on the grounds, Asgoodasshelooks and Sadie's Time.

Asgoodasshelooks was an easy 6 1/4-length winner of her only previous start, which came on grass. Sadie's Time won her debut by nearly 15 lengths against midpriced maiden claimers before stepping up to finish second in the Leave Me Alone Stakes.