05/18/2006 12:00AM

Gaff puts desert-rebound theory to test

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Gaff won the Mr. Prospector Handicap at Gulfstream in January for a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 111.

It has been less than two months since Gaff went halfway around the world to compete in Dubai in the $2 million Golden Shaheen, finishing fifth in a race where American-based runners swept the first five spots. There is great debate over how long a horse needs to recover from such a lengthy journey. Two months? Six months? Never?

On Saturday, the racing world will be focused on Barbaro's quest for the Preakness Stakes. But a few hours earlier at Pimlico, in the Grade 3, $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup Sprint Handicap at six furlongs, all eyes will be on Gaff to see if he can blaze a new trail for horses who race in Dubai.

"He's a great big horse who has trained nicely," his trainer, Steve Asmussen, said Thursday morning. "But it is his first time back from Dubai."

If returns to the form he had before he left for Dubai, he will be the horse to beat. He won three straight races, including the Jan. 7 Mr. Prospector Handicap at Gulfstream Park, in which he got a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 111.

But Gaff was outrun in Dubai by Proud Tower Too, Thor's Echo, Jet West, and Captain Squire, all from California, the first three California-breds.

"I thought he'd run better than he did over there," Asmussen said.

If Gaff is off his game, even a bit, Kazoo could pounce. He comes off a sharp effort at Keeneland, in which he battled through wickedly fast fractions and put away all his pace rivals, only to succumb to the late run of Sun King in the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup.

"He ran huge," his trainer, Rick Dutrow Jr., said Thursday. "He broke running and he ran big. He came out of it okay, and he's gotten better and better and better."

was a runaway winner of the Toboggan Handicap at Aqueduct before that. He looks to have the controlling speed, but both Gaff and Friendly Island should be right on him.

was third to Gaff in the Mr. Prospector, then two starts later was second to division leader Bordonaro in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

Gallorette: Mott has strong hand

With both My Typhoon and Thetactics Ofdance, trainer Bill Mott seemingly has a hammerlock on the Grade 3, $100,000 Gallorette Handicap. His hand will look even stronger if trainer Bobby Frankel scratches Amorama, which he said he would do on Thursday after Amorama drew post 12 in the 14-horse field.

"I don't think I'm going to run," Frankel said. "I don't like the post. There's too many horses. She comes from behind. It doesn't set up good for her. I'll probably find another spot."

With Amorama out, Mott's horses should vie for favoritism in the 1 1/16-mile grass race for older fillies and mares. My Typhoon will be making her first start of the year, but she had a super year last year at 3. She finished in the money in seven straight stakes, including a victory in the Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs.

"We're just getting her going," Mott said. "It's not like she's cranked all the way."

Thetactics Ofdance is seeking her third straight victory. She won the Turf Distaff at Tampa in her last start. She was scratched from the Thirty Flags Stakes at Belmont Park on Wednesday when it was rained off the turf.

Miss Audrey has the look of a live longshot. Although this is her first try in stakes company, she has won two straight races and would be unbeaten on turf if not for losing the rider at the start of her turf debut.

"This is a big step up, but this isn't the deepest field," said Graham Motion, who trains Miss Audrey. "At this stage, it seems like a good time to try a race like this."

Trainer Michael Matz, who will send out Barbaro later in the day in the Preakness, will try to pick up some pocket change with Zona, who disappointed last time out in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland. Matz wants Zona to be covered up before rallying, and she has not had that trip in her last two starts.

- Jay Privman

Hirsch Jacobs: Songster likely pick

Though he has just a maiden win to his credit, Songster looks like the horse to beat in the Grade 3, $100,000 Hirsch Jacobs Stakes for 3-year-olds at six furlongs.

Songster, a son of Songandaprayer, won his maiden first out on Jan. 28. Since then, he has finished second in an entry-level allowance to subsequent winner stakes winner Exclusive Quality and second behind Too Much Bling in the Grade 3 Bay Shore run over a sloppy Aqueduct track. Too Much Bling may be the best 3-year-old sprinter in the country.

"Too Much Bling was much the best that day regardless," said Songster's trainer, Tom Albertrani, "but it appeared our horse didn't seem to handle it. He came out of the race well, has worked well since then, and he's doing well."

Songster drew the outside post in the eight-horse field.

On paper, My Dynomite and Urban Guy look like the main challengers. Since being claimed by Tim Ritchey for $40,000 last October, Urban Guy has finished first or second in 5 of 6 starts.

He won the Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn and, after finishing fifth in the Hansel over Turfway Park's Polytrack, Urban Guy bounced back with a win the Francis "Jock" Labelle Memorial at Delaware. He is coming back in two weeks, but that doesn't concern Ritchey.

"It didn't take a lot out of him, [Stewart Elliott] was just easing him up at the wire," Ritchey said. "He came out of the race well. He's a horse that's been rested. I think he's gong to give us a big effort."

Urban Guy, who will be ridden by Buddy Winnett Jr., figures to be stalking Songster, who looms the main speed from his outside post.

My Dynomite is 2 for 2 against New York-breds and would be making his first start against open company here. Trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., he shows a bullet five-furlong work in 58.80 seconds Sunday at Aqueduct.

- David Grening

Sir Barton: Ah Day heads home team

Four local 3-year-olds returning from the Federico Tesio Stakes are being challenged by three able shippers in the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes.

The Sir Barton favorite probably will be Ah Day, who earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102 in easily winning the April 22 Tesio over a sloppy Pimlico surface and was seriously considered for the Preakness until trainer King Leatherbury announced Wednesday that the colt would run instead in the 1 1/16-mile Sir Barton. Ah Day, with Ryan Fogelsonger to ride, will break from post 2.

Vegas Play, the Tesio runner-up, drew just to Ah Day's inside. Trained by Bud Delp of Spectacular Bid fame, Vegas Play has proven a steady closer who might well benefit from the likes of High Cotton and Ultimate Goal providing sustained challenges to Ah Day as the Sir Barton unfolds.

"Leatherbury beat me pretty good last time, so I guess he's the horse to beat again," said Delp.

Although no rider was listed for Vegas Play at entry time, Delp said Ramon Dominguez will have the mount.

High Cotton and Ultimate Goal, both trained by Todd Pletcher, have shown flashes of brilliance and figure as solid threats to the top Tesio pair. High Cotton won the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park before being overmatched in the Arkansas Derby, while Ultimate Goal will make his stakes debut after winning a Gulfstream maiden race and a Keeneland allowance.

The two other returnees from the Tesio, Our Peak and Sharps Island, both ran clunkers when finishing seventh and 10th, respectively, which may have been attributable to the sloppy surface.

Little Cliff, who has run exclusively in stakes this year, ships in from Saratoga for Nick Zito to complete the Sir Barton lineup.

- Marty McGee

Baltimore BC Turf: 1-2 Lake punch

Scott Lake, the nation's leading trainer in wins through the first 5 1/2 months of the year, has a potent one-two punch in the $100,000 Baltimore Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

Lake sends out the uncoupled entry of Procreate and Southern Missile in the 5 1/2-furlong race, and either one looks capable of getting the job done. Southern Missile may rate a slight edge as he figures to get an outside stalking trip. Jeremy Rose is listed to ride, but it is unclear whether he will be here in time from Delaware to ride.

In a pair of turf sprints at Gulfstream, Southern Missile finished second behind War Plan and won a second-level allowance race over next-out stakes winner The Nth Degree. In his last start, Southern Missile won an off-the turf race here by 7 1/4 lengths.

"Southern Missile can lay just a bit off the pace, so that [outside draw] suits him really well," Lake said. "He can do anything you want to do."

Procreate is a speed horse who ran big from off the pace last time in the Dream Big Stakes at Atlantic City.

"He had a rough, rough trip," Lake said. "He ran a huge race. He walked out of the gate, and coming from off the pace is not his [usual style]. Turning for home, he got bumped off stride and he still ran on to be second."

Procreate may have to deal with Sarah's Prospect on the front end. Sarah's Prospect set the pace in the Dream Big before weakening to fourth. That was his first race in seven months.

Second in Command was a beaten favorite in an allowance race over this turf course on May 4, his first start in seven months. Trainer Linda Rice is leery of running Second in Command over less-than-firm ground, and may scratch if that is the case on Saturday.

- David Grening