03/01/2010 1:00AM

Expect Presious Passion to rebound


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Presious Passion settled for fifth place as the 4-5 favorite last time in at Calder. Does that mean he is likely to be vulnerable when he returns in Sunday's Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream?

Presious Passion has been consistent since winning the Mac Diarmida last year, with three wins and two second-place finishes from seven subsequent starts. And he has rebounded from a flop before - he finished last in at Oak Tree.

Presious Passion also had a couple of reasonable excuses for his poor performance at Calder. He had run a huge race in his previous start, setting a scorching pace and holding on well to finish a close second in . In that context, the possibility of regression should have been considered in his next race.

Presious Passion was pestered early in the McKnight when 85-1 longshot Livingston Street dueled with him. After that early battle, Presious Passion was his own worst enemy the rest of the way. He drew off to a six-length lead, then faded down the stretch.

He is clearly the speed of the speed in the Mac Diarmida and should enjoy a better trip. Presious Passion should benefit from the track bias of Gulfstream Park's turf course in route races. Horses who race in midpack early and closers tend to underperform on that course. First-call leaders win their fair share of races.

But the horses who have enjoyed the best trips are the ones who track the leader. Presious Passion is very likely to be the early leader, and two other horses have enough tactical speed to get a good trip: Sr. Henry and Gabriel's Hill. Feels All Right and Thou Swell are also capable of being in contention early if they are asked to do so, but that hasn't always been the case in their previous starts.

Winchester has the credentials to be a prime contender, with a second-place finish at Belmont in the Grade 2 Bowling Green, a loss by a head at Keeneland in the Grade 3 Sycamore, and a third at Calder in the McKnight. The catch is that he is a closer, and he is likely to attract good betting support. If the turf bias hinders him, he might be beatable at an underlaid price to win, and perhaps also in the exacta.

Expansion ran a career-best race last time when he rallied from fifth in a seven-horse field to win the Grade 2 Red Smith at Aqueduct. He isn't as much of a closer as Winchester, but he still figures to be no closer than midpack through the first half-mile, perhaps farther back than that.

If Presious Passion runs a more typical race, he should be good enough. I'll bet him to win, and I'll try to catch an overlaid price in the second slot in the exacta by using him on top of Feels All Right, Sr. Henry, Gabriel's Hill, and Thou Swell. On paper, those four horses don't look as good as the closers, but a combination of the right trip, a better-than-average effort, and a good price can add up to an overlaid winning exacta payoff.

Feels All Right finished third against Group 1 company in France five races ago, in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud. He's returning from a break of nearly eight months, but trainer Patrick Biancone has done well with horses returning from a layoff and those making their first North American start.

Sr. Henry has back class and earned a career-best 96 Beyer last time in his return from a 2 1/2-month layoff. He can take another step forward second time back, and it would make him dangerous in the exotics if he does.

Gabriel's Hill just equaled his career-best 93 Beyer last time, second time back from a six-month break, and might continue the upswing in the Mac Diarmida.

Thou Swell finished second at Saratoga in the Grade 2 Hall of Fame in his second start. He doesn't fit as well as the others based on his moderate recent form, but the back class helps, and improvement is possible in the second race of his form cycle.