01/11/2003 1:00AM

Improving Spectacular Dove solid favorite


NEW ORLEANS - In June, Spectacular Dove couldn't win a conditioned claiming race at Colonial Downs, but Monday at Fair Grounds she will start as a solid favorite in a third-level turf allowance with a $75,000 claiming option. The turnaround coincided with Spectacular Dove's move to trainer Tom Amoss's barn, and she enters Monday's race on a three-race win streak.

And the wins have come easily. Spectacular Dove beat maidens by eight lengths Sept. 15 at Kentucky Downs, and after a one-length, entry-level allowance win at Keeneland, she beat second-level allowance horses at Fair Grounds by more than four lengths. Her race Monday is another step up, but considering how easily Spectacular Dove won last time and the relative weakness of the opposition, she doesn't appear to be a vulnerable favorite.

All of this comes just five starts after Spectacular Dove finished second in a $25,000 nonwinners-of-two claiming race June 28 at Colonial.

"With her, it's been a progression of her mental attitude as much as anything," said Amoss, who trains Spectacular Dove for Z Star Stable. "She's very aggressive, and the secret has been her starting to relax."

Spectacular Dove has kept her composure during her last two starts, stalking a moderate pace each time before taking over with a quick burst coming off the turn. The strategy should prove successful again for jockey Calvin Borel, who can save ground with the favorite from post 2 in this about one-mile race.

Amoss also has the race covered should it be rained off turf. He entered Swinging Gate for the $75,000 tag, and though she faded to last 10 days ago in the Truly Bound Handicap, she has the credentials to compete with this group on dirt.

New team behind Zarb's Magic

For the first time in two years, the 10-year-old Zarb's Magic is in a new stable. Winner of the Arkansas Derby in 1996, Zarb's Magic has been trained by Louie Roussel since January 2001, but when Roussel ran the old gelding into a $10,000 claimer here on Thursday, two claims were dropped, and Zarb's Magic goes to trainer Wes Hawley and owner Michael Cooper.

Despite his advanced age and the fact he finished fourth on Friday, Zarb's Magic was a reasonable claim. He made eight starts in 2002, winning six times, and since he ran for the $10,000 claiming price, Zarb's Magic has regained his eligibility for starter-allowance races.

"Now I've got two Louisiana-bred 10-year-olds in my barn," said Hawley, who also trains 10-year-old Caro's Royalty. "I'm just hoping some of their class rubs off on my younger horses."

Hawley knows how many miles Zarb's Magic - a winner of 22 of 65 starts - has on him, and doesn't know how productive he will be, but said it was worth taking a shot on such a classy horse. "We know Louie did a great job taking care of the horse and running the horse," Hawley said. "We'll just wait and let him tell us where to run him."

o Mystery Giver, working toward the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, breezed five furlongs Saturday in 1:01, as fast as any horse worked at the distance.