10/16/2008 12:00AM

Gottcha Gold arrives fresh for Spend a Buck


MIAMI - Calder's Festival of the Sun has been best known throughout its 16-year history as a showcase for many of the area's top 2-year-olds, who compete in the finales of the Florida Stallion stakes. But along with the traditional In Reality and My Dear Girl stakes, this Saturday's edition of the Festival of the Sun also will feature a couple of top-notch Grade 3 races for older horses, the Spend a Buck Handicap on dirt and the Miami Mile Handicap on turf.

The 1 1/16-mile Spend a Buck appears to be Gottcha Gold's race to lose. One year removed from his finest hour, a second-place finish in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, Gottcha Gold returns home to face eight rivals. Gottcha Gold and jockey C.C. Lopez are reunited for the first time since they were beaten a neck by Student Council in the Grade 1 Pimlico Special in May.

Gottcha Gold has started just six times since the 2007 Breeders' Cup, his lone win an easy 3 1/2-length triumph in Gulfstream Park's Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap seven months ago. A 5-year-old son of Coronado's Quest trained by Eddie Plesa Jr., Gottcha Gold has been freshened since finishing a tiring fourth in Monmouth Park's Grade 3 Iselin on Aug. 16.

"He tailed off a little this summer, so we brought him home and he's been training great," said Plesa, who has earmarked January's Sunshine Millions Classic as his principal goal for Gottcha Gold.

The well-travelled Judiths Wild Rush, who finished four lengths in front of Gottcha Gold when the pair met in Monmouth's version of the Skip Away in July, may be the main threat. Calder will be the eighth racetrack the 7-year-old Judiths Wild Rush has competed over in 11 outings this season. His lone win came in his last start, the Waquoit Stakes at Suffolk Downs on Aug. 30. The victory pushed his career earnings over the $1 million mark.

Finallymadeit figures to press Gottcha Gold's early pace in quest of his third stakes win this season. Sweetnorthernsaint returns to the dirt after finishing sixth as the favorite in the grassy The Vid Stakes and could prove the major beneficiary if a speed duel should develop.

As a 3-year-old, Soldier's Dancer was one of the stars of the 2007 Festival of the Sun, with his impressive six-length victory in the Grade 3 Calder Derby. A year later, the stretch-running son of Lost Soldier will attempt to duplicate that performance as the highweight and favorite in the Miami Mile, a new addition to the Festival of the Sun card.

Soldier's Dancer has made just two starts since winning Tampa's Turf Classic on April 5. His last appearance may have been his best yet, a last-to-first two-length decision over a yielding course in Philadelphia Park's President's Cup.

"I laid him up this summer because he'd had a hard campaign, but he never left the track," trainer David Vivian said. "I kept him right here and just walked him for a couple of months. His last start was really impressive. Once he got in gear and angled out in the stretch, he ran by those horses like they were tied to the fence, and if the race had been another sixteenth of a mile he'd have won by 10 lengths."

The key question regarding Soldiers Dancer's chances on Saturday is the turn back in distance from 1 1/8 miles to a mile. Soldier's Dancer has never competed in a stakes race shorter than 1 1/16 miles, although he did win his maiden going five furlongs as well as a seven-furlong starter allowance, both on dirt, early in his career.

The Miami Mile attracted a field of 12, plus three also-eligibles, and includes Wise River, who is fresh off a wire-to-wire triumph in Hawthorne's Grade 3 Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap. Also in the field is the versatile It's a Bird, who was cross-entered in the Spend a Buck.

Trainer Marty Wolfson figures to send out the favorites of both 2-year-old stakes on the Festival of the Sun undercard, You Luckie Mann in the $100,000 Birdonthewire and Frolic's Dream in its filly counterpart, the $100,000 Cassidy.

You Luckie Mann, who finished third as the favorite behind Big Drama in both the Dr. Fager and Affirmed stakes, should bounce back against eight rivals in the 5 1/2-furlong Birdonthewire.

Frolic's Dream, one of the most impressive 2-year-old maiden winners at the meet, will face trainer Steve Asmussen's Midwest shipper A Day for Dancing and five other juvenile fillies in the Cassidy.