04/01/2004 12:00AM

Humorously faces tougher foes this time

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Saturday's $250,000 Aventura Stakes is being billed a Kentucky Derby prep by track management, although until the race becomes graded, that is not likely to be the case. But the final major 3-year-old stakes of the 2004 Gulfstream Park meeting could prove to be a springboard to bigger and better things for several members of the field, including the vastly improved Humorously.

is among the main contenders in the 1 1/16-mile Aventura, along with Forest Grove and Zakocity. There are five others in the field: supplemental entries Baronage and Quanaco, Kaufy Mate, Tap Dancer, and Hopefortheroses.

Humorously needed three starts before finally winning his maiden under a $62,500 price tag here earlier in the meet. But Humorously, a son of Distorted Humor, served notice he could be a horse to reckon with, with an easy 8 1/2-length victory in the Ocala Breeders' Championship on March 15.

Trainer Bill White knows that the competition Humorously manhandled in Ocala is a far cry from what he'll face in the Aventura. White readily acknowledges his horse will get a class check on Saturday.

"We went into Ocala knowing we had one horse to beat [Harbour Gate], and he ran off in the post parade and was scratched, so other than that there wasn't much competition," said White. "The Aventura is definitely the most important race of Humorously's career up to this point. I think he's a really nice horse, and he's doing well. I'm looking forward to this race and expecting him to really step up to the plate and run well."

Humorously has done his best when on or near the lead, but he will likely have his hands full early if he tries to keep up with the speedy Forest Grove. That colt has won his last pair, including a gate-to-wire allowance victory by three-quarters of a length, which earned Forest Grove a career-high 90 Beyer.

"It's a nice purse, he's training well, he's an improving horse, is 2 for 2 over the course, and deserves the chance to step up," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Forest Grove for owner-breeders Aaron and Marie Jones.

Zakocity may be a slight favorite off his fourth-place finish behind Limehouse in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby. Zakocity, who was stakes placed in his two previous starts, was beaten only three lengths in the Tampa Bay Derby despite being parked wide the entire trip, and he could prove the beneficiary if Humorously and Forest Grove hook up in an early duel.