04/19/2007 12:00AM

Guiding Hand in front, Real Dandy coming on



Just six months ago you could have claimed Guiding Hand for $15,000. On Saturday he looks to establish himself the meet's top handicap runner in the $100,000 Sunland Park Handicap. The 1 1/8-miles event for 3-year-olds and upward lured a field of eight.

Guiding Hand, a 4-year-old son of Helmsman, has blossomed after being mired in claiming ranks and seemingly going nowhere. He emerged in the fall, winning a restricted claimer and then a first-level allowance race, both at Remington Park. He tried the Zia Park Derby Dec. 9, and after setting a brisk pace settled for second. Then he went wire to wire to win the Winsham Lad by 3 1/2 lengths here Jan. 13. Guiding Hand dueled for the lead in the Curribot Handicap Feb. 25, but faltered to finish fifth, beaten only a length.

Trainer Chris Hartman dropped Guiding Hand into an optional claimer here April 3 as a way to get him back on track. It worked. As usual he bolted right to the lead, took pressure early, and edged away late to beat Rollicking Caller by 1 1/4 lengths. Ken Tohill figures to put Guiding Hand right on the pace. Guiding Hand carries 120 pounds and is owned by Frontier Stables LLC, Joey Davis and partners.

Real Dandy comes from the other end of the spectrum in terms of style. Owned by Mary Catherine and Robert Zollars, the 5-year-old Real Dandy does his best running in the lane. He rallied strongly to be second behind Guiding Hand in the Winsham Lad, and got his revenge when his big late charge carried him to the win in the Curribot. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Real Dandy finished fifth in an allowance race here March 18 in his last start. He carries 120 pounds with Alfredo Juarez Jr. aboard.

Keep on Punching was third in the Curribot and fourth behind Guiding Hand and Rollicking Caller in that April 3 optional claimer. A return to his Curribot form makes him a threat.

Rollicking Caller is obviously a good fit here, having run second to Real Dandy, ahead of Guiding Hand, in the Curribot and then second to Guiding Hand in that April 3 optional claimer.