01/01/2004 12:00AM

Expresso Bay takes on Grimm


PHOENIX - Expresso Bay apparently doesn't understand how this whole time continuum thing works. You're supposed to slow down as you get older. But Expresso Bay, a 7-year-old Southern California-based runner, has never looked better than he does now.

He better be at his best for Saturday's $50,000 Paradise Mile Handicap at Turf Paradise, because Grimm, probably the best horse on the Arizona circuit, is waiting for him. Eight are entered in the the one-mile turf race.

Until recently, Expresso Bay's success was strictly in the high-priced claiming ranks. But since this summer he has won 6 of 7, his lone loss coming to Buckland Manor, who has since won at Santa Anita and is being pointed to the Grade 2 Strub Stakes.

Expresso Bay defeated strong allowance foes at Hollywood Nov. 21, then beat a good group of $80,000 claimers. He was claimed that day by trainer Doug O'Neill. Expresso Bay carries high weight of 121 pounds on Saturday, and will be ridden by Eric Saint-Martin.

Grimm, who also carries 121, is also hot now. He has won 7 of his last 8 starts, and while he's best known for his main-track prowess, he won the only time he ran on turf - the one-mile Patchy Groundfog here on Nov. 18. He dueled on the lead and drew off to win.

Trained by Eric Kruljac, Grimm is in the best form of his life and worked a bullet half-mile in 46.20 seconds on Monday here. Scott Stevens was named to ride him.

Grimm also was entered in the $100,000 El Conejo Handicap at Santa Anita on Thursday.

If Grimm goes to Santa Anita instead, Kruljac would run the rugged R. Baggio in the Paradise Mile. A 6-year-old gelding, R. Baggio has won on this turf course and at this distance.

After a successful winter and spring, his form declined and he was freshened. He returned with a strong sprint win here Nov. 18. In his last race, the Black Mountain Handicap on Dec. 6, he broke slowly and was never in the hunt as the 6-5 favorite. Grimm won that race.

R. Baggio is certainly better than that, and some nice works since indicate he may be ready to bounce back. Hoogie Drexler will ride at 119 pounds.