03/26/2009 12:00AM

Distance a concern in Appleton


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Unlike both the Swale and Florida Derby, which feature two or three legitimate contenders apiece, the $100,000 Appleton may be the most wide-open betting race on Saturday's outstanding 12-race program at Gulfstream Park.

The Grade 3 Appleton, to be decided at the seldom-used distance of 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf, drew a field of 12, with Hypocrite entered for dirt only. Kiss the Kid is likely to be the slight favorite, coming off a victory in the Ft. Lauderdale and a fourth-place finish behind Kip Deville in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap in two starts here this winter.

But Kiss the Kid is far more accomplished at 1 1/16 miles or more, a fact that concerns trainer Amy Tarrant.

"He's never done this kind of sprint on the grass before, although his Beyers prove he's fast and I think he can handle it," Tarrant said. "His first race here this meet was fabulous and his second against Kip Deville was very good, and I like the fact he's had some time off since his last start. But it's going to be a different kind of race than he's used to, and it will pretty much be up to Elvis [Trujillo] to figure out how to handle it from a strategy standpoint."

For those who believe 7 1/2 furlongs could prove Kiss the Kid's undoing, the list of alternatives to the favorite is a long one.

Some might make a case for Passager, a French-bred gelding who finished fifth in his U.S. debut in the one-mile, Grade 3 Canadian Turf earlier in the meet.

The stretch-running Vanquisher, who won the Tallahasee and finished a half-length in front of Passager in the Canadian Turf, remains in peak form but will need plenty of pace help to run down the leaders at this distance.

Bold Start has had the bulk of his success on dirt but is 2 for 4 on grass and should be right at home stretching out off his third-place finish in the seven-furlong, Grade 2 Richter Scale earlier in the meet.

"Seven and one-half is a good number for him," trainer Ken McPeek said.

Artic Cry is in top form, having already won a pair of allowance races over the local strip this winter. But, like Kiss the Kid, he will be turning back in distance off those victories.

Other top contenders include Pickapocket, Cannonball, and T. D. Vance.