05/19/2005 12:00AM

Front-runners square off at Delaware


A pair of front-runners, one a lightly raced 4-year-old who has yet to face stakes company and the other a mare who has never raced outside Argentina, could hold the key to Saturday's $75,000 Sweet N Sassy Handicap at Delaware Park.

Fortress Hill, a Todd Pletcher-trained filly who has won her two starts this year by a combined margin of 10 lengths, and Fantastica Roma, idle since winning a Group 3 stakes in Argentina last August, could wind up battling each other for the lead in the six-furlong Sweet N Sassy.

Fortress Hill has been in front at every call in her two wins this year, one at Keeneland and the other at Gulfstream Park. Her Beyer Speed Figures of 95 and 94 indicate she fits well moving up from the allowance ranks.

Fantastica Roma, 4-for-9 lifetime on dirt, has apparently taken well to the main track at Delaware, where she has worked out three times since April 24, twice recording near-bullet times.

Trainer Maria Pascual has been exceptional with horses making their first start in her barn the past two seasons - 32 percent winners with a $3.95 return on investment - a strong indication Fantastica Roma will be ready to fire off the long layoff.

If the two front-runners burn each other out in a duel, a filly among the trio of Storm Minstrel, Spectacular Moon, and Annika Lass is likely to benefit.

Storm Minstrel ships in from New York, where she most recently finished second in a sprint stakes restricted to nonwinners of an open stakes.

Spectacular Moon was ill-suited to a one-turn mile in the Grade 3 Bed o' Roses at Aqueduct last time out, but returns to her best distance now. Two starts ago, she easily beat high-priced optional claimers with a 91 Beyer.

Annika Lass, 5 for 9 lifetime at six furlongs, makes her first start in more than two months after winning back-to-back starts in Maryland and New York during the winter.