11/19/2002 1:00AM

Florida Million moments to remember


MIAMI - While it may take the Florida Million a while to catch on among horsemen, Calder's newest multi-stakes day program should have been an instant hit with fans Saturday after exciting finishes in four of the six stakes races.

The $200,000 Elmer Heubeck Distaff Handicap may have provided the most drama. Coolbythepool won, rallying from far back to outfinish 26-1 Sara's Success by a neck, with Cellars Shiraz, the only 3-year-old in the field, a neck behind in third.

The Heubeck was sandwiched between two other races with entertaining stretch drives. In the $150,000 Bonnie Heath Turf Handicap, Jerry Bailey had to call on all his reserves to get 1-2 favorite Miesque's Approval up in late stretch to hang a head decision on Sir Brian's Sword. It was yet another close confrontation between Payson Park neighboring trainers Bill Mott (Miesque's Approval) and Christophe Clement (Sir Brian's Sword).

The Heubeck was followed by the $150,000 Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap in which Tour of the Cat reasserted himself after being headed by My Cousin Matt near midstretch to edge off to a three-quarter-length victory in perhaps the most game performance of the afternoon.

Coolbythepool's victory in the Heubeck avenged her loss to arch-rival Castlebrook a month earlier in the Shocker T. Handicap and all but sewed up division honors for the 5-year-old Coolbythepool. Trained by Marty Wolfson for the Town And Country Corp., Coolbythepool now has four stakes victories and earnings of more than $275,000 in 2002. She may get one last chance to add to that total in the Stage Door Betty Handicap here on Dec. 28.

Coolbythepool is scheduled to be bred to Monbrook in 2003.

"Her last race [the Shocker T.] was very deceiving because the track was hard that day and she's got very bad feet," said Wolfson. "I train her in bar shoes and don't take them off until an hour before she races. One thing about this mare is that she's got an awful lot of fight in her."

Tour of the Cat's performance in the Jack Dudley was all the more impressive considering he had not started in three months, was carrying highweight of 120 pounds, and was forced to battle New York invader My Cousin Matt from the deepest part of the track near the inside through the stretch.

"I decided he needed a little time off after his last race so he got a little break with the grass and sunshine on the farm in Ocala," said Myra Mora, who trains Tour of the Cat for the Double G Stable. "He's so game. He just wasn't going to let that other horse by him. I'm so proud of him."

Tour of the Cat's victory in the Jack Dudley also clinched division honors, although he, too, will likely have one more chance to add to his already impressive 2002 resume in the Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap on Dec. 7.

The king for the day on the Florida Million card was Best of the Rest, who wasn't about to become part of any close finish in the main event, the $200,000 Carl G. Rose Classic, which the 7-year-old dominated by a comfortable 1 1/2 lengths.

The Rose was the third win in four local starts this year for Best of the Rest, whose only setback over his home grounds came at the hands of Pay the Preacher five weeks earlier in the Spend a Buck Handicap.

"I knew he was a work short going into his last race, and he showed it when he hung a little down the lane," said trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. "He's just a remarkable horse. He's running as good at 7 as he did as a 3-year-old, and knock on wood he's injury-free right now."

Plesa said Best of the Rest, who runs in the colors of owner-breeder Bea Oxenberg, will likely conclude his 2002 campaign in the Grade 3 Fred Hooper Handicap on Dec. 28 before pointing for Gulfstream's $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic pitting Florida-breds against California-breds going 1 1/8 miles on Jan. 25.

"It's great to see the purses getting up for Florida-breds with programs like [the Florida Million] and the Sunshine Millions coming up at Gulfstream," said Plesa. "It helps keep good owners like the Oxenbergs in the game."