02/12/2004 12:00AM

Don't try to beat Second of June


NEW YORK - The road to the 2004 Kentucky Derby takes a serious turn Saturday with the Grade 1, $250,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. But even though the Fountain of Youth is the big event of the day, there is a little bit of everything else to satisfy the stakes aficionado.

Perhaps the biggest weekend of the year at Laurel Park begins with two lucrative stakes events with rich histories - the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap for female sprinters and the $150,000 John B. Campbell Breeders' Cup Handicap.

There are two stakes Saturday at Santa Anita, where the La Canada series for 4-year-old fillies concludes with - what else? - the $200,000 La Canada Stakes and California-breds get together on the downhill turf course in the $100,000 Sensational Star Stakes.

Fillies with designs on the Kentucky Oaks find a significant stepping-stone at Fair Grounds, where the headliner is the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes.

It is Gulfstream, however, that is the marquee track Saturday, not only because of the Fountain of Youth, but also because the card includes the $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes at seven furlongs, for 3-year-olds who may not quite be up to the Fountain of Youth's distance of 1 1/16 miles right now. Gulfstream also has the $100,000 Old Hat Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and a few loaded allowance races for 3-year-olds with serious aspirations.

Here are the three stakes that caught my bankroll's attention:


Although the rail at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 10 wasn't quite the black hole that the rail had been on some days early in the meet, it was still not the place to be. That is why I'm going with Ghost Mountain to upset this race.

Ghost Mountain finished third that day in the Spectacular Bid Stakes behind Wynn Dot Comma and Saratoga County. Wynn Dot Comma ran well in victory, coming wide and from farther off the pace than he ever had before. Saratoga County ran well, too, in his first start in 3 1/2 months. But, Ghost Mountain was beaten only two lengths for it all after doing almost all of his running on the rail. This time, he is nicely drawn outside and stretches back out to a distance at which he romped three starts back, and at which Wynn Dot Comma is slightly suspect.

Wynn Dot Comma and, particularly, Saratoga County, will be tough again, but Ghost Mountain will be the much bigger price - a price good enough to try to beat them.

Barbara Fritchie

Bear Fan is the legitimate heavy favorite off a troubled third in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint last time out, in which she broke slowly, steadied into the far turn, and checked when blocked behind horses in the stretch. On the other hand, Bear Fan isn't the sharpest gate horse, and that Sunshine Millions race was falling apart at the end, which helped her get as close as she did late. So, I'll try and beat her here with Gazillion.

Gazillion loves Laurel and loves seven furlongs, and she was probably too close to the early pace when beaten at even money last time out. Before that, she came within a head of winning four straight races, and her ability to close fits nicely with a pace that is projected to be hot and contested.

Fountain of Youth

Second of June is a favorite that I have no plans to try to beat. He was dominating when he won the Holy Bull earlier in the meet. Second of June easily pulled away late from Silver Wagon, who, on the basis of Beyer Speed Figures, actually did improve the way everyone expected him to and finished with impressive power.

In an effort to turn an 8-5 shot into perhaps a 6-1 shot, I'm taking a cold exacta of Second of June over Silver Wagon. Silver Wagon, who finished 10 lengths ahead of the third finisher in the Holy Bull, gets a positive equipment change with blinkers on. At the same time, I am also hoping that Remsen winner Read the Footnotes, who figures to be a strong second choice in the betting, may be a race away from his best coming off a late November layoff.