03/18/2008 12:00AM

Frost Giant (6-1) to get ideal setup

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NEW YORK - There will be a distinct Kentucky Derby feel in the air Saturday as three of the day's biggest stakes are Derby preps. They are the Grade 3, $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby, led by the undefeated champion War Pass, the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and the Grade 2, $200,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. I like the Rebel but I'm going elsewhere for my other two plays.

Skip Away Handicap

Gottcha Gold will probably be forgiven for his distant ninth in the Sunshine Millions Classic last time out, as he was involved in an insanely fast early pace. In fact, Gottcha Gold might be favored off some of his efforts last year at Monmouth Park, including a victory over Lawyer Ron in the Salvatore Mile, a big win in the Iselin, and a second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. The thing is, Gottcha Gold has been much more effective at Monmouth than he has been at other tracks. He has a career mark of 5 wins from 9 starts there, and he is 2 for 15 elsewhere. That, plus the presence in this race of Mr. Umphrey, whose job appears to be to use his sprint speed to run Gottcha Gold into the ground and set it up for his uncoupled barnmate Frost Giant, makes Gottcha Gold a go-against.

I like Frost Giant, who has indicated this year that he is good enough to capitalize on the perfect setup in store for him Saturday. Frost Giant's early career, both in Europe and in this country, was punctuated by layoff lines. But he has stayed on a regular racing schedule this year, suggesting he is healthier than ever before, and it has shown in his performances. Frost Giant finished first in an optional claimer on the turf in January, but was disqualified. He finished first again most recently, and kept the win. But the impressive thing about that performance is that it was Frost Giant's first start on dirt, the surface on which he races Saturday, and it was the most clear-cut victory if his career and, perhaps, the strongest race of his life.

Rebel Stakes

Z Fortune has lost only once in his four-race career - a second last out in the Risen Star to barnmate Pyro, who along with War Pass is one of the top two contenders for the Kentucky Derby. Z Fortune is likely better than I first thought, especially after Visionaire, who finished third behind him in the Risen Star after a much easier trip, came back to win last week's Gotham with a 98 Beyer Speed Figure. But Z Fortune is poorly drawn like he was in the Risen Star, and he will offer zero betting value. So I'll try and beat him with Sierra Sunset.

Sierra Sunset finished second in the Southwest over the track last time out and fourth in the San Rafael two starts back in tough company. In the San Rafael, Sierra Sunset was close to a ridiculously fast early pace, and to his credit he held on until El Gato Malo blew that field away late. Sierra Sunset's Southwest was a decidedly better outing. Again, he was fairly close to a fast early pace, but this time, the only one he couldn't outkick was Denis of Cork, who was lights-out that day. Denis of Cork and El Gato Malo are at the head of the second tier of Derby contenders, and now Sierra Sunset escapes them.

Turf Dash

Lookinforthesecret is looking for his fifth straight win at the meet. But the speed of Around the Cape and Blue Pepsi Lodge could mean Lookinforthesecret will have a much tougher time making the lead. And that could set this race up for Fort Prado.

Fort Prado, winner of two good turf sprints last year, gained ground against the undefeated Euroears in the Colonel Power Stakes last time out. He should be a much tougher customer second start off the layoff, which also happens to be a high-percentage move for his trainer, Chris Block.