03/31/2006 1:00AM

Gulfstream graded stakes preview

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Barbaro looms the deserving favorite in the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, but he'll have to answer a lot of questions at a relatively short price. He's yet to compete on a fast dirt track, breaks from a tough outside post position, and must contend with a two-month layoff. The undefeated colt obviously has talent, but is still a bit green as he changed back to his wrong lead after being hit left-handed in the late stages of the Grade 3 Holy Bull. Barbaro should be used in multi-race wagers, but there is value elsewhere.

It isn't often that a Todd Pletcher horse goes off at a big price in a graded stake, but Saint Augustus figures to be double-digit odds despite prevailing over this track and distance in his most recent start. Although well-beaten by Barbaro in the Holy Bull, Saint Augustus may not have appreciated the sloppy nature of the Gulfstream strip that day. He has tactical speed, and although he has yet to perform well in graded company, he deserves a chance to upset the Florida Derby at a price.

The "wiseguy" horse in the race may be Sharp Humor. Like 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, Sharp Humor is a New York-bred son of Distorted Humor. He has excellent early speed, and may try to run-and-gun on the front end under Mark Guidry. As with Barbaro, he should be used in multi-race wagers and exotics, but this will be his first start around two turns, and he may be susceptible to a bounce after a hard race in the Swale.

Flashy Bull is solid and consistent, but distance questions linger. Doc Cheney has lots of upside potential, and shouldn't be overlooked if the price is square. Sunriver is a full-brother to Ashado trained by Pletcher so he probably will take his share of tote action.

1.Saint Augustus

2.Sharp Humor

3.Barbaro

Pletcher's Honey Ryder returns to defend her Orchid Handicap title on the Saturday undercard. She received an excellent prep run for this in the Grade 3 Honey Fox Handicap as she chased the very promising Wend going 1 1/16 miles. She is much more effective at this marathon distance of twelve furlongs, and should be tighter with that last run under her girth. She won't offer much value, but projects as the most likely winner.

Pretty Jane ran third to Honey Ryder in last year's Orchid, and although she'll try again in 2006 without the benefit of a prep run, she can be forgiven her last two races of 2005. She chased next-out Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Intercontinental in the WinStar Galaxy over a Keeneland track that Pretty Jane does not like on October 9, and had a miserable trip over polytrack the time before. She has some gate speed, and figures close to the expected tepid fractions. Pretty Jane is a two-time winner over the Gulfstream green, and offers significant value in the exotics.

Kate Winslet didn't appear to like being in and among horses for the first half-mile of the Grade 2 La Prevoyante Handicap at Calder as she was tossing her head about when they passed the stands for the first time. She still was able to make the lead in midstretch before being run down by the classy Film Maker. Like Pretty Jane, she will not have the benefit of a recent prep, but has hinted at ability, and can contend in this spot.

Olaya enjoyed a perfect trip to win two starts back before failing as the chalk in the Grade 3 Very One Handicap to Dynamite Lass.

Noble Stella seems to be rounding into form, but may be better over the Woodbine turf.

Asti's gate problems are well-documented, and her Beyers are light when compared with those of the top contenders.

Dynamite Lass must prove that she can put two winning performances back-to-back.

1.Honey Ryder

2.Pretty Jane

3.Kate Winslet

Einstein enjoyed a loose lead through slow fractions on his way to winning the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup on February 25, but the pace should be stronger in Saturday's Grade 3 Pan American Handicap, and he may have to rate from his far outside post. He's won from off the pace in the past, and is perfect over the Gulfstream turf, but he figures to take more money than he did in the GPBC.

The pick here is Sabre d'Argent, a strapping half-brother to Grade 2 winner Exchange Rate. A six-year-old limited to only six lifetime starts due to physical problems, Sabre d'Argent showed strong stamina at the beginning of his career in Europe. Making his first start in the United States at Tampa Bay Downs in February, Sabre d'Argent rallied strongly to win an off-the-turf optional claimer, and has trained steadily for his leap back into graded competition. Expect a strong late rally under Javier Castellano.

Silver Whistle has lost three photos in a row for Bill Mott, but the lightly-raced colt has upside, and his Beyer Speed Figures fit very nicely with this group. He will be sharper as he makes the second start of the year, and the added distance shouldn't adversely affect his chances.

Go Deputy ran well to be second behind Einstein last time, and he was stymied by the absence of pace that day. He'll get more to run at on Saturday, and it's hard to ignore a Pletcher-Velazquez runner in a big race.

Scooter Roach has put up some big numbers in his career, and offers value in exotics.

1.Sabre d'Argent

2.Einstein

3.Silver Whistle

There doesn't seem to be much pace in the Skip Away Handicap, and that should leave favored Bandini to coast on the front end. He earned a huge Beyer over this strip in his first start of the year, and doesn't face the strongest grouping ever assembled for a Grade 3 race on Saturday. He offers no value in the win pool, but the pace advantage should propel him to victory.

Contante just missed in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap last time out, but he is a stone-closer that needs pace to attack. He makes the important third start of the form cycle with improving Beyers on display, but may be left with too much to do when the real running begins.

Whos Crying Now likes this track, and wasn't disgraced when fourth in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. He should appreciate turning back in distance, and will likely be closer to the pace than Contante. He'll also offer a better price.

Noble Causeway will race over his favorite surface and distance, but must improve off that 84 Beyer earned in his recent optional claiming win.

1.Bandini

2.Contante

3.Whos Crying Now