08/30/2006 12:00AM

Juvenile Showcase draws big fields


MIAMI - The innovative folks at Calder Race Course, the ones who already have given us the wildly successful Summit of Speed and the off-the-wall Extreme Day, also hit upon the idea several years ago of running an entire program of 2-year-old races.

It was another unique concept and one which in its relatively short history has also proven to be popular among fans and horsemen alike.

Saturday's Juvenile Showcase might be the best yet. The 13-horse card will present six stakes, highlighted by the middle legs of the rich Florida Stallion Stakes, and also give the wagering public what it likes best - large and highly competitive fields, including five maiden races with full starting lineups of 12 horses each. The average field size, before scratches, for Saturday's program is better than 10 runners per race.

The highlight of the day will be the $150,000 Affirmed and Susan's Girl divisions of the Stallion Stakes. The seven-furlong Affirmed drew a field of eight, led by the undefeated and untested Straight Faced, whose three previous wins include a 4 1/4-length triumph in the opening leg of the series, the six-furlong Dr. Fager.

Five of Straight Faced's 12 victims in the Dr. Fager have signed back on for the Affirmed, including runner-up Villainage and the unlucky Green Vegas, who lost all chance in the previous encounter when he struck the inner rail entering the far turn.

Snow Lady and Silkily, who finished necks apart as the first- and second-place finishers in the six-furlong Desert Vixen Stakes, renew acquaintances in the Susan's Girl. Snow Lady is one of three horses to be saddled by trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. in the seven-furlong Susan's Girl, along with Synergy and Adhrhythm. The race also attracted two shippers, Unbridled Ambiance from Kentucky and the New York-based Graeme Central.

Mach Ride's trip was costly

"What a bummer." Those were the words trainer Steve Standridge used to describe Mach Ride's courageous but unlucky fourth-place finish behind odds-on favorite Henny Hughes in Saturday's Grade 1 King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga.

Mach Ride, who had not finished worse than second in five previous starts, stumbled badly immediately after the start, then had to steady in traffic when attempting to rally from near the rear of the pack entering the stretch of the seven-furlong King's Bishop. Despite all the trouble, Mach Ride was beaten less than two lengths for second by Star Dabbler.

"We wouldn't have beaten the winner, but I don't think there was any doubt we would have finished second with a better trip," said Standridge.

Mach Ride, who suffered his only other setback when finishing second behind odds-on favorite Too Much Bling in Calder's Grade 2 Carry Back Stakes in July, has returned to his home base. Standridge said he has not formulated any plans at the moment for the 3-year-old's next start.

Despite the ominous presence of Tropical Storm Ernesto off the south Florida coast, racing went on as scheduled here Tuesday. Management shortened post parades and was able to complete the entire nine-race card by 3:30 p.m. The only glitch was a slight midday shower, which forced management to move the last of the three scheduled turf races to the main track.

Ashlee the Great heads Friday feature

Ashlee the Great will be favored to beat six rivals in Friday's $26,000 main event, a first-level optional claiming and allowance race for fillies and mares. Ashlee the Great could not quite overcome an unlucky start when she fell a head shy of catching Five Star Susan as the 6-5 favorite under similar conditions on Aug. 12. A consistent daughter of Carson City, she has not finished worse than third in five starts, for owner-trainer Steve Dwoskin.

Sophia's Reward, a lightly raced 3-year-old, and Golden Ballado should provide Ashlee the Great with her chief competition.

Friday's program marks the final twilight card of the meet, with post time set at 2:55 p.m. Racing will return to a 12:50 post time next week.

* The racetrack was closed for training on Wednesday in light of the impending bad weather from Ernesto and, as a result, Tuesday's work tab was long. Among those who beat the storm was Five Towns, who went three furlongs in 37.60 seconds for trainer Frank Gomez in preparation for Saturday's $50,000 Fasig-Tipton Turf Dash. Gomez also worked the stakes-winning 3-year-old Rehoboth an easy five furlongs in 1:04.80 over the deep and cuppy track.