07/07/2004 11:00PM

Cup-caliber field in Princess Rooney


MIAMI - The $500,000 Princess Rooney Handicap is the highlight of the six sprint stakes that make up Saturday's $1.75 million Summit of Speed program at Calder. But trainer Todd Pletcher has a different name for the Princess Rooney, a Grade 2 dash that has brought together by far the strongest field of filly-and-mare sprinters of the 2004 season.

"Basically this race is the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint," said Pletcher, who will send out Grade 1 winner Harmony Lodge.

The field will also include 122-pound highweight Bear Fan, Grade 1 winner Lady Tak, West Coast sensation Ema Bovary, local division leader Mary Murphy, and Puxa Saco.

The six-furlong Princess Rooney and the $500,000 Smile Sprint are the two richest races on an outstanding card that also includes the $300,000 Carry Back Stakes for 3-year-olds; its filly counterpart, the $300,000 Azalea Breeders' Cup Stakes; the $100,000 Calder Turf Sprint; and the $50,000 Rocket Man Stakes, featuring the return of Group 1 winner Caller One.

In addition, there will be an all-stakes pick five with a minimum $1 bet and a guaranteed pool of $500,000. The wager includes all of the stakes except the Rocket Man.

Bear Fan moved to the head of the filly-and-mare sprint division after she posted consecutive one-sided victories in the Grade 2 Genuine Risk and Grade 2 Vagrancy handicaps in May and June at Belmont Park. She established a 6 1/2-furlong course record of 1:14.46 with her nine-length tour de force in the Vagrancy, where she won wire to wire.

Bear Fan has shown promise ever since launching her career with three straight victories as a 3-year-old in 2002. But injuries - first a suspensory problem and then quarter cracks - slowed her progress until this winter, when she began her current four-race win streak by capturing Laurel's Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap.

"It's taken her a while to get back to her best," said Wesley Ward, her trainer, breeder, and co-owner.

Regular rider John Velazquez will be aboard for the Princess Rooney.

Harmony Lodge, who captured Saratoga's Grade 1 Ballerina Handicap last summer, has finished second in each of her last three starts. That span includes the Genuine Risk, where she proved no match for Bear Fan after contesting the pace into the stretch.

"This race couldn't be any tougher, but on her day she's capable of running with anyone," said Pletcher. "A lot will depend on how the race sets up. As my mare has gotten older, she's become capable of sitting off the pace, so I'm hoping someone will hook Bear Fan a little - although we'll need everything to go right and then some to beat the favorite."

Lady Tak also posted her Grade 1 win last summer at Saratoga, easily defeating Bird Town in the Test Stakes. She closed out her 3-year-old campaign by finishing second in the Grade 1 Gazelle and seventh in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but appears to be rounding back to top form following a pair of victories this spring at Churchill Downs.

"I'm both scared and very respectful of Bear Fan after watching her last performance," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Lady Tak for the Heiligbrodt Racing Stable. "Calder doesn't really favor my filly's strengths, and she's probably not going to run her very best race on Saturday, but her last two starts were very positive."

Ema Bovary had a nine-race win streak ended when she finished a troubled second in Hollywood Park's Desert Stormer Handicap on June 5. The streak included a neck victory over Bear Fan under allowance conditions at Hollywood in November.