03/04/2005 1:00AM

Lead for Speed back vs. softer as big favorite in Palo Verde


PHOENIX - The California invaders were too much to handle for Lead for Speed in last month's Turf Paradise Derby, but he remains among the elite 3-year-olds on the local circuit and will be out to show that in Sunday's $50,000 Palo Verde Handicap at Turf Paradise. The 6 1/2-furlong race has a field of nine, and Lead for Speed looms a heavy favorite, toting high weight of 123 pounds.

Lead for Speed, trained by Dan McFarlane, first came onto the radar last fall here, winning the Sail on By Stakes, before chasing home Walker in the slop in the Fool the Experts Stakes.

Unfortunately for Lead for Speed, when he showed up in the Arizona Juvenile Dec. 26 so too did a monster named Lost in the Fog. Lead for Speed finished third, but was no match for Lost in the Fog, who beat him by over 15 lengths.

But Lead for Speed showed his resiliency and versatility in the Rattlesnake here Jan. 23. In his first attempt at two turns, he dueled long and hard and defeated Scottsbluff. That victory earned him a crack at the $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby Feb. 12. Lead for Speed didn't show his customary speed, instead sitting last early before making a bit of a run to be a non-threatening third. It was his second start on a wet track, and it's possible he's not comfortable with that footing.

Besides, the two Southern Californians who defeated him have talent; neither are running against him on Sunday. Leading rider Wilson Dieguez has the call.

Lead for Speed must deal with Walker again on Sunday.

After Walker beat Lead for Speed in the Fool the Experts last November, he ran poorly in the Arizona Juvenile and a turf sprint Jan. 22. Trainer Kevin Lewis has freshened Walker, and the horse has been working well. Kelly Bridge rides at 119 pounds.

Quintons Relaunch was no match for Walker and Lead for Speed in the Fool the Experts, and again lost to Lead for Speed in the one-mile Rattlesnake. He bounced back with a huge win when returned to sprinting here Feb. 8.

The Beyer Speed Figure Quintons Relaunch earned in his last start, 84, was far and away the best of his career. Jake Barton rides at 118 pounds.