01/06/2005 12:00AM

Hot pace will aid Saratoga County

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NEW YORK - Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park are the two most important winter race meets in the nation, so it is no surprise that these two tracks will play host to Saturday's most important stakes action.

There is a Grade 2 doubleheader at Santa Anita with the $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap for older males, and the $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap for fillies and mares sharing the spotlight. Unfortunately, the weather threatens to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings. Rain, possibly heavy at times, is in the forecast, and that may wreak havoc with the San Gorgonio since it is scheduled to be run on the turf.

There are three stakes on the card at Gulfstream, including a pair of Grade 3 events, the Mr. Prospector and Hal's Hope handicaps, which are worth $100,000 each.

Mr. Prospector Handicap

There is plenty of serious early speed in this race. Half of the 10 horses entered do their best when on or right with the early lead. That being the case, I want a horse who can capitalize if this race falls apart late, which I suspect it may, and the horse to do that is Saratoga County.

Saratoga County comes into this off by far the best performance of his career, a romp in an allowance race at Churchill Downs. That victory came at the expense of a much softer field than Saratoga County faces Saturday, but the 108 Beyer Speed Figure he earned is the best last-out Beyer in this field. And, two bullet workouts since arriving in Florida says Saratoga County maintains that sharp form.

Last year, Saratoga County turned in three performances that suggest he classes up well in this spot. He ran very well despite varying degrees of trouble to hit the board in two stakes at Gulfstream, and won the Gotham at Aqueduct.

Hal's Hope Handicap

Badge of Silver is a big question at this 1 1/8-mile distance. Purge inherited an easy lead when he won the Jim Dandy when Medallist spit the bit. Many have grown tired of waiting for Dynever to fulfill his promise. These are some of the reasons why I'm going with Commentator to extend his unbeaten streak in this spot.

Commentator has questions going into this race, too. He has never been two turns, met this kind of company, or faced the kind of quality pace pressure he will face Saturday. On the other hand, Commentator was absolutely freakish winning the first five starts of his career by an average margin of 8 1/2 lengths, and earned a 112 Beyer Figure in his last start, which is right with the best in this field. Commentator should be the main speed and, despite his impressive past performances, he may be no lower than co-third choice in the betting with Purge.

San Pasqual Handicap

Lundy's Liability and Total Impact are the two best horses in this race. But for the first time in ages, Excessivepleasure has found a spot where it looks like he will avoid getting caught in a speed duel, and he is the bet to go wire to wire.

Excessivepleasure competed in fast-paced races in all his starts last year, which explains the donut in his 2004 win column. No one else in this race seems capable of going anywhere near as fast as 22 seconds to the quarter and 44 to the half like he can, meaning he should finally be loose on the lead. A wet track would seem to only enhance Excessivepleasure's pace advantage. It also helps that he figures to be set for a big move forward second start off a long layoff.

Saturday

Gulfstream Park: Mr. Prospector Handicap
3 and up, 6 furlongs
Approximate post: Eastern-4:41 p.m., Central-3:41 p.m., Mountain-2:41 p.m., Pacific-1:41 p.m.;
Hallandale Beach, Fl., forecast: Slight chance of showers, 80 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Strength and Honor106101789-2
2Shake You Down103818912-1
3Wando96958910-1
4Saratoga County10893893-1
5Voodoo7210310412-1
6Thunder Touch10199995-1
7All Hail Stormy100928720-1
8Choose92885550-1
9Limehouse75951005-2
10Deputy Storm9980946-1

Odds by Art Gropper

Gulfstream Park: Hal's Hope Handicap
3 and up, 1 1/8 miles
Approximate post: E-5:14 p.m., C-4:14 p.m., M-3:14 p.m., P-2:14 p.m.;
Hallandale Beach, Fl., forecast: Slight chance of showers, 80 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1The Judge Sez Who89899550-1
2Country Judge98918920-1
3Smooth Lover100957450-1
4Contante86n/an/a20-1
5Commentator1121071063-1
6Badge of Silver1091081042-1
7Added Edge108891076-1
8Deputy Lad92889150-1
9Wake At Noon85868450-1
10Purge89991096-1
11Collateral Damage94869950-1
12Dynever1081051065-2
13Alleged Ruler100898050-1

Odds by Art Gropper

Santa Anita: San Pasqual Handicap
4 and up, 1 1/16 miles
Approximate post: E-7:07 p.m., C-6:07 p.m., M-5:07 p.m., P-4:07 p.m.;
Arcadia, Ca., forecast: Rain, 55 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Lundy's Liability102108n/a7-5
2Total Impactn/a1071088-5
3Excessivepleasure66956810-1
4Sigfreto88959120-1
5Formal Attire91961017-2
6Habaneros81999320-1
7Congrats88921008-1

Odds by Art Gropper