03/16/2006 12:00AM

Latenite Special tough to dethrone


Latenite Special, last year's top older New Mexico-bred mare, attempts to show she's still the one they must go through as she defends her title in Saturday's $100,000 Sydney Valentini Handicap at Sunland Park. Her presence didn't exactly scare away the opposition, however, as the mile race lured a field of 12.

But make no mistake - Latenite Special again looms the horse to beat as the 124-pound highweight. Trained by Mitch Lane, the 5-year-old Latenite Special boasts a gaudy 11-for-17 career mark with earnings of $390,803. After a super 2005 season which saw her win 5 of 7, including four stakes, she was freshened a bit but returned with a smashing allowance score at Sunland six weeks ago.

This is an exact copy of the path she took last year. In 2005, Latenite Special was freshened in the winter, came back to romp in allowance race, and then easily won this race.

Regular rider Ken Tohill again has the call.

If anyone can spoil Latenite Special's defense it might be Hat Creek. The second highweight at 120 pounds, Hat Creek comes off three straight good seconds, including finishing behind Latenite Special on Jan. 31. The 5-year-old Hat Creek is 5 for 14 overall, with all those wins coming at Sunland. She beat Latenite Special in the La Coneja in December 2004, though that was a sprint. Mark Villa rides.

Skirt Alert is a potential upset candidate. Trained by O.D. Jamison, the 4-year-old Skirt Alert hadn't done much this winter after being gone the last half of 2005. She woke up and delivered a monster performance at Sunland on Feb. 21, romping by almost eight lengths in a six-furlong allowance race and posting a career-best 89 Beyer Speed Figure. That victory may be a sign she's not only back on track but that she's actually turned the corner.

Quyet Bui rides at 118 pounds.