04/06/2007 12:00AM

Hard to tell how favorites will run

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - At their best, Sabre Baby and Baron Von Tap appear too good for their five rivals in the $75,000 optional claiming feature that highlights a nine-race Easter Sunday program at Gulfstream Park. The question is this: Will either of the likely favorites be at their best for the 1 1/16-mile grass race?

Sabre Baby perhaps was never better than in his last start, when he finished third, just 2o1/2 lengths behind multiple Grade 1 winner English Channel, in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race run in track-record time. The Beyer folks would also agree with that assessment as the 100 speed figure they assigned Sabre Baby for that effort was the highest of his 38-race career.

But Sabre Baby has proven to be an inconsistent sort for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., dating back to early last summer when he won an optional claimer at Belmont Park. In fact, Sabre Baby had not earned higher than an 87 Beyer in his three starts before the English Channel race on Feb. 22.

Baron Von Tap turned in perhaps his best performance ever when he finished fourth behind Hotstufanthensome in the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup on Feb. 24, earning a career-topping 99 Beyer despite a troubled trip. But three weeks later, Baron Von Tap wound up bouncing off the effort and finishing fifth as the 8-5 favorite after engaging in a speed duel.

Baron Von Tap may not face as much early pace pressure on Sunday and would be tough to beat if able to relax on the lead for jockey Jose Lezcano, who also rode the 6-year-old turf specialist for trainer Howie Tesher in Tampa.

The late-running Tissy Fit, who exits a come-from-behind three-quarter-length victory against lesser opposition five weeks earlier, is among the viable alternatives, along with Cosmic Kris and Rock Lobster.

Cosmic Kris, a multiple graded-stakes-placed son of Storm Creek, runs with a claiming tag for the first time. Cosmic Kris gets some much-needed class relief after finishing fourth in each of his two starts this winter.

Rock Lobster, winner of the Grade 3 Saranac last summer at Saratoga, figures to improve off his 2007 debut, a wide-running fourth behind the red-hot Yankee Master here on Feb. 23.