02/05/2004 1:00AM

Familiar foes gather for Oaks


PHOENIX - Apparently the combatants in the Jan. 17 Sun Devil at Turf Paradise didn't feel anything was resolved. So, four of the first five finishers are back for more in Saturday's $75,000 Arizona Oaks, a race that kicks off a stakes tripleheader here. The Oaks goes as race 6, followed by the Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup Handicap (race 7) and the Turf Paradise Derby (race 8).

Seven will run in the 1 1/16-mile Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies, and four are quite familiar with one another.

Coke's Melody's big late rally carried her to victory in the one-mile Sun Devil. She just managed to run down the very fast Very Vegas, as well as Fun'ngames Toknite, who was slightly more than a length back in third. Muir Beach, who closed from well back, was fifth, beaten about six lengths overall.

Very Vegas may well go favored Saturday. She opened up five lengths early in the Sun Devil, and still was more than two lengths in front in midstretch. It was her first start in a couple months so she may be fitter this time. Very Vegas, ridden by leading rider Mick Ruis, must deal with the outside post but may be able to clear without having to go too wide.

Fun'ngames Toknite, trained by Eric Kruljac, appears to have more tactical speed than Coke's Melody, her stablemate, and may get first run on Very Vegas. In the Sun Devil, Fun'ngames Toknite had the outside post but this time finds herself inside of Very Vegas. Scott Stevens rides Fun'ngames Toknite.

Coke's Melody made a big move on the far turn to reach contention in the Sun Devil. She may be fitter now as that was her first start in more than two months. Hoogie Drexler rides.

Palmerton looks tough in Gold Cup

Palmerton took advantage of sizzling fractions and came roaring home to win the Swift Stakes here on Jan. 24. He ran 5 1/2 furlongs in a swift 1:02.40. That win may establish Palmerton as the horse to beat in next month's $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup.

Trained by Lyman Rollins, Palmerton will have to face such classy sprinters as Dan's Groovy, Toast for Mr. Expo, and Captain's Maneuver in the Gold Cup.

Teenager runaway leading rider

Ruis, a 16-year-old apprentice, continues to dominate the jockey standings here. Through Monday's racing Ruis has 93 wins, which put him 21 ahead of Glenn Corbett (72) and 23 clear of Scott Stevens (70).

Things are a little closer among the trainers. Troy Bainum holds a clear lead over Don Mills, 49-42. Eric Kruljac is just behind with 37.