03/15/2002 12:00AM

High Star can upset in Fla. Derby

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With all of the early Kentucky Derby favorites racing elsewhere this season, there hasn't been much buzz surrounding this year's $1 million Florida Derby this Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Nevertheless, what the Florida Derby lacks in star power it makes up for in competitiveness with no less than eight of the 11 entrants boasting realistic chances to win.

The field includes Fountain of Youth 1-2-3 finishers Booklet, Harlan's Holiday, and Blue Burner, as well as Count Fleet runner-up D'Coach, Hutcheson runner-up Monthir, the Todd Pletcher/Michael Tabor entry of Nokoma and Smooth Jazz, and Nick Zito's highly-regarded High Star just to name a few.

The horse with the most upside in the field, both in terms of quality and value, looks like High Star, who has run big against the likes of Repent and Request For Parole earlier in his career and can surely improve off his most recent effort.

High Star is coming off a loss in an optional claiming prep race at Gulfstream last month where he got caught behind an unbelievably slow pace of :25, 51.1, and 1:16.4. Toss out that race, and bet that High Star can improve on his career-high 92 Beyer which was earned here at Gulfstream two starts back in his 3-year-old debut for trainer Nick Zito.

Harlan's Holiday couldn't pass Booklet in the stretch of either the Fountain of Youth or Holy Bull Stakes, but he may get a little extra help in this race thanks to today's slightly longer distance and some expected pace pressure on Booklet from the 1A-Smooth Jazz, who is stretching out for the first time in his career.

Harlan's Holiday is too much of a hanger to like as a win proposition here at low odds, but he certainly could fall back into his usual bridesmaid role and be a factor in exactas for trainer Ken McPeek and new jockey Edgar Prado.

With strong support likely for all of the above-mentioned horses as well as Monthir, Nokoma and Blue Burner, the overlay of the field will surely be D'Coach, who ships in from Aqueduct off back-to-back good efforts in the Count Fleet and Whirlaway Stakes. D'Coach earned a competitive 92 Beyer when second to the undefeated Saratoga Blues in the Whirlaway, and was the victim of a raw-deal when DQ'd to fourth.

Shug McGaughey adds both Lasix and the blinkers on D'Coach, who has an outside chance of posting the upset at an overlaid price.

SELECTIONS:

FLORIDA DERBY

Gulfstream, Saturday - Race 12

Grade 1, 1 1/8 miles, purse: $1,000,000

1) 7-High Star

2) 3-Harlan's Holiday

3) 8-D'Coach


$100 PLAY

Take a shot against Booklet and hope for some solid payoffs if he runs out of the exacta or trifecta. Bet High Star (#7) to win, and also throw in a small saver win bet on D'Coach (#8), who should be a nice price. Then box those two in exactas a trifectas with Harlan's Holiday (#3), who should at least be somewhere in the money. Toss in a few extra bucks to box Booklet (#4) in the exactas with D'Coach, and also throw in a one-way exacta with High Star over Booklet.

$5 exacta box 3,7,8 ($30 bet)

$5 exacta 7/4 ($5 bet)

$5 exacta box 4/8 ($10 bet)

$5 trifecta box 3,7,8 ($30 bet)

$20 to win on No. 7-High Star

$5 to win on No. 8-D'Coach