Updated on 09/16/2011 7:04AM

The few, the talented

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He won last year's Gulfstream Park Handicap, but Sir Bear (below, left) may be no better than third choice Saturday behind Red Bullet (above, far left) and Mongoose (above, second from right).

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - As a wagering proposition, Saturday's $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap may offer minimum appeal with just five horses entered, only four of whom can be considered legitimate win candidates. But from a quality standpoint the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap is certainly worthy of maximum attention with four of the five starters already Grade 1 winners, including Sir Bear, who captured this race a year ago.

Joining Sir Bear in the starting lineup for the 57th running of the Gulfstream Park Handicap will be Mongoose, winner of the Grade 1 Donn Handicap here earlier in the meet; Red Bullet, winner of the 2000 Preakness, and Hal's Hope, winner of the 2000 Florida Derby. American Halo, a two-time Grade 3 winner, rounds out the compact but star-studded lineup.

Sir Bear comes off a victory over Red Bullet and Hal's Hope in the Skip Away Handicap on Jan. 12. But from a wagering standpoint, the 9-year-old Sir Bear may end up offering the most value in a race where Red Bullet and Mongoose are expected to vie for favoritism.

A year ago, Sir Bear paid $21 after running down Pleasant Breeze to register his third career Grade 1 victory. He returned $20.20 after using similar tactics to upset the Skip Away to launch his 2002 season. Overall, he has won 6 of his 13 starts at Gulfstream Park.

"Of all the races he's won during his career, and he's run a bunch of good ones, that last one may have been his best performance yet," said Ralph Ziadie, who trains Sir Bear for owner-breeders Barbara and Al Smollin. "Just the way he kicked in through the stretch. At the eighth pole it still didn't look like he'd make it. But he did. He's an amazing horse. Nothing he does surprises me any more."

Ziadie's biggest fear on Saturday is the lack of speed in the race.

"If there's no pace we could be in trouble," said Ziadie. "My horse just doesn't have that kind of speed to do anything about that."

Eibar Coa, who rode Sir Bear to victory in the 2001 Gulfstream Park Handicap, will be back aboard on Saturday.

Hal's Hope also figures to be a bit of a price despite the fact he is expected to be loose on an easy lead and has always done his best at this track. A recent experiment to rate Hal's Hope proved mildly successful, resulting in a second in the Fred Hooper Handicap at Calder and a third in the Skip Away. But it's when he's on the lead that Hal's Hope has always done his best, as was the case in the 2000 Florida Derby and when he reverted to his favorite tactic to post a career-best 108 Beyer Speed Figure after leading throughout to win the Grade 3 Creme Fraiche Handicap earlier this month.

Regular rider Roger Velez will again be aboard Hal's Hope for owner-breeder-trainer Harold Rose.

Red Bullet has had tough luck in his two starts at this meet as the beaten favorite in both the Skip Away and Donn handicaps. In the Donn, he turned in a heroic effort following a very poor start to finish a close second behind Mongoose before ultimately being disqualified and placed fourth for causing interference on the far turn.

"He was the best horse in the Donn," said trainer Joe Orseno. "Anybody who saw the race knows that."

Like Ziadie, Orseno is also concerned about the pace.

"In a small field like this someone always gets away with a slow pace," said Orseno. "I'll take a look at the field and see how the track is playing and if it looks like it's favoring speed we might have to change our tactics a bit."

Jerry Bailey, a seven-time Gulfstream Park Handicap winner, will ride Red Bullet.

Mongoose brings a four-race winning streak into the stakes, including his neck victory in the Donn when he parlayed a perfect trip under Edgar Prado into his first Grade 1 win. Prado will be back astride Mongoose for H. James Bond, who took over the training of the Broad Brush colt late last season.

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