03/08/2008 12:00AM

Golden Velvet brings odd factor into play

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Handicappers are faced with many variables to decipher when attempting to figure out the winner of a race. Rarely, though, do they have to predict what effects racing with a sponge in a sinus cavity might have in a horse's future endeavors.

Such will be the case, however, when Golden Velvet returns as the 119-pound highweight in Sunday's $200,000 Rampart Handicap at Gulfstream Park, a Grade 2 race at 1 1/8 miles for older fillies and mares.

Golden Velvet finished in a dead heat for first with Lady Marlboro following a thrilling stretch run in the Grade 3 Sabin Handicap here on Jan. 6. Shortly after the race, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin discovered his mare had competed that day with a sponge in her nose. The case remains under investigation, a mystery for both state and track authorities, as well as to those attempting to assess her chances in the Rampart.

"She's been doing very well since the Sabin, and I don't think the incident will impact her in a negative way," said McLaughlin. "In fact, my veterinarian and I think she probably ran her race in the Sabin, because the sponge was not located in an area that should have affected her breathing, although that's just an educated guess on our part. She might have actually run a monster race to overcome what she did in her last start and could come back and run huge on Sunday."

The pace scenario in the Rampart should be to Golden Velvet's advantage, with Tessa Blue, Ballado's Thunder, Peace Flambe, and Altesse likely to ensure honest early fractions.

"It's an interesting race. There's a lot of pace, and that horse of Bryan Lynch's who won her last start by 13 lengths," said McLaughlin, referring to Spring Waltz. "The added distance should be no problem for us, though. I think she wants to go further."

Spring Waltz will get a class check. She makes her stakes debut in the Rampart after posting three impressive victories, capped by her 13-length allowance win here on Feb. 17, for which she earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 106.

The Rampart also will mark the return of Ballado's Thunder, who has not raced since finishing fourth in Hollywood Park's Grade 1 Vanity Handicap on July 7.

Ballado's Thunder, who will make her first start for trainer Bill Mott, has run the majority of her races on turf or artificial surfaces, although she has won 2 of her 3 tries on conventional dirt, including the restricted Santa Lucia Handicap last spring at Santa Anita.