04/06/2005 11:00PM

Little separates three quality sprinters

Forest Danger comes into the Carter off a track-record performance at Gulfstream.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - A bid for early-season supremacy in the sprint division is on tap Saturday when Forest Danger, Don Six, and Medallist square off in the Grade 1, $350,000 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct.

The Carter, run at seven furlongs, is the first leg of the NTRA Spring Pick 3, followed by the Wood Memorial, also at Aqueduct, and the Illinois Derby from Hawthorne.

The Carter lost one of its key players when Badge of Silver was held out of the race because of a minor injury to a hind foot.

By drawing the outside post in the six-horse field, Forest Danger rates a slight edge over Don Six and Medallist, who are drawn immediately to his inside.

also rates a slight edge based on his 4-for-5 record and his jaw-dropping fourth-level allowance win at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 14. Coming off a nine-month layoff, caused by a fractured hind leg, Forest Danger ran 6 1/2 furlongs in a track record 1:14.44 in winning by 9 1/2 lengths. The horse he beat that day, Primary Suspect, came back to win the Grade 3 Toboggan Handicap.

"I felt like he was going to run very well off the layoff and he was capable of doing very impressive things,'' trainer Todd Pletcher said. "Did I expect him to win by as far as he did and run as fast as he did? I don't think anyone could've expected that. He's trained very well since, and hopefully we've given him plenty of time.''

On last year's Wood Memorial card, Forest Danger won the seven-furlong Bay Shore Stakes by 7 1/2 lengths. Three weeks later, in the Withers, Forest Danger was upset by Medallist in the Grade 3 Withers.

After winning the Withers, Medallist won the Grade 2 Dwyer impressively before tailing off the remainder of the year. He bounced back over the winter with victories in the Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap at Calder and the Deputy Minister Handicap at Gulfstream.

In winning the Deputy Minister, Medallist bore out badly through the stretch, something he had a tendency to do last year.

"Before, when he was doing it, he was doing it in the mornings once in a while,'' trainer Allen Jerkens said. "He hasn't been doing it in the morning at all.''

When told of the plethora of speed in the race, Jerkens said, "It's going to be survival of the fittest. We hope he's fit.''

Scott Lake has transformed Don Six from underachiever to high-quality sprinter. He won the Grade 3 Gravesend and listed Paumonok handicaps impressively before falling a nose short to Saratoga County in the Grade 2 General George Handicap at Laurel Park. Saratoga County came back to win the Dubai Golden Shaheen.

Though trainer Bobby Frankel won't have Badge of Silver to run, he will send out potential upsetter Mass Media. Mass Media won the Grade 3 Sport Page Handicap over this track last fall, earning a career-best 115 Beyer Speed Figure. He is 2 for 2 under Javier Castellano, who rides him on Saturday.

"He likes to be ridden where you take a hold of him and make a run,'' Frankel said.

Primary Suspect and Unforgettable Max complete the field.