12/02/2004 12:00AM

An improved Host faces Silver Tree

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Host, scoring his first north American victory in the Grade 2 Knickerbocker Handicap last out, comes to Calder for Saturday's Tropical Turf.

MIAMI - Last winter, trainer Todd Pletcher thought so highly of the newly arrived Chilean-bred Host that he contemplated a trip to Dubai for the $2 million Dubai Duty Free Stakes. Those plans didn't pan out, but nine months later Pletcher still has high hopes for Host, whom he sends in Saturday's Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap.

The Tropical Turf is one of four stakes, each worth $100,000, on Saturday's Grand Slam I program at Calder. The other stakes are the Grade 3 My Charmer Handicap, also on turf, and the What a Pleasure and Three Ring stakes for 2-year-olds. The four races will be coupled in a special all-stakes pick four wager that has a guaranteed pool of $250,000. Post time for the 12-race card is 12:25 p.m.

was a champion in Chile last year at age 3, winning 5 of 6 starts, including the Group 1 Chilean 2000 Guineas by six lengths. Host finished second after unlucky trips in his first two U.S. starts, in February at Gulfstream Park. After finishing third behind Funny Cide and Evening Attire over a muddy main track in Aqueduct's Grade 3 Excelsior Handicap, Host was given the summer off by Pletcher.

"Our plans went a bit awry when we didn't get to go to Dubai, and I finally decided he needed a little more time to acclimate himself to racing over here and grow up a bit," he said.

Host returned to the races Oct. 15 at The Meadowlands, where he finished third in the Grade 3 Cliff Hanger Handicap. He wheeled back 15 days later and rallied from near the rear of the pack to outfinish Evening Attire and register his first North American victory in Aqueduct's Grade 2 Knickerbocker Handicap.

"The time off did him good, and he's a much better horse now than he was during the spring," said Pletcher. "Especially since we figured out how he wants to run, which is to sit back and make one run from off the pace. I think he'll go all day. It's just a matter of getting him to relax the first part."

Pletcher said he knows the competition will get stiffer for Host as his U.S. career progresses. In the Tropical Turf, Host's opposition will include Silver Tree, who comes off a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

was beaten only three lengths by Singletary in the Breeders' Cup Mile, which was contested over a yielding course at Lone Star. Trained by Bill Mott, who won the 1997 Tropical Turf with Sir Cat, Silver Tree has posted three victories this season, including the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga. He was also third in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile.

Host and Silver Tree will share high weight of 118 pounds while facing 10 rivals in the Tropical Turf.

The local contingent for the event is a good one and includes Twilight Road, Final Prophecy, and Bob's Proud Moment.

Trainer Christophe Clement, the 1999 Tropical Park Turf winner with Hiberian Rhapsody, also sends out a strong contender in Mogador.

The My Charmer field is one of the deepest in the race's history. Six of the 12 fillies and mares in the race come off a win, including co-highweights Changing World and Formal Miss.

Changing World has captured 3 of her last 4 starts dating back to her victory in the Frances Genter Stakes here a year ago. She led throughout en route to a 1 1/4-length decision in the Grade 3 Violet Handicap at The Meadowlands on Oct. 22.

Formal Miss has been the most consistent member of the local division all season and has shown marked improvement since putting blinkers on during the spring. She has won each of her last two starts, both overnight stakes, and 6 of her 13 tries over her home course.

Clement and Pletcher also send out formidable contenders in the My Charmer. Clement saddles Snowdrops, a multiple stakes winner, and Pletcher counters with Something Ventured, the runner-up in the 2003 My Charmer, who is looking to rebound off an unlucky trip in Aqueduct's Grade 3 Athenia Handicap.