08/14/2002 11:00PM

Local sprinters return to proper level

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MIAMI - The last time Tour of the Cat, Sweeping Smoke, and Built Up ran, their opposition included such nationally renown sprinters as Orientate, Crafty C.T., and Echo Eddie. The competition will be decidedly easier Saturday when they renew acquaintances and face six other locally based speedsters in Calder's $75,000 Groomstick Handicap.

The versatile Tour of the Cat, who has proven formidable on both turf and dirt and at distances up to nine furlongs, moved to the head of the local sprint division with game victories in the Naked Greed and Exclusive Pine handicaps. But despite coming into the Smile at the top of his game, Tour of the Cat proved no match for Orientate and company when he finished a distant sixth after showing only brief speed.

Sweeping Smoke finished second, beaten a half-length by Tour of the Cat, after contesting all the pace, in the Naked Greed. He, too, was overmatched in the Smile, where he finished two lengths in front of Tour of the Cat as a non-threatening fifth.

Built Up proved best of the locals when fourth after prompting the early pace in the Smile. He seeks to avenge a tough nose setback at the hands of Tour of the Cat in the Exclusive Pine. The sentimental favorite in the race would have to be Groomstick Stock's, a 6-year-old gelding and a son of the Florida-based stallion for whom the stakes was named.

Groomstick Stock's, a multiple stakes winner, returns to the main track following a disappointing eighth-place finish in the El Gran Fernando Handicap on turf. Two weeks earlier, Groomstick Stock's scratched out of the Smile and instead was an easy 5 3/4-length winner of the five-furlong Comet Stakes. He will race coupled in the wagering with stablemate Highway Prospector, an inconsistent runner who has turned in some big efforts over this track when at the top of his game.

The remainder of the field for the six-furlong Groomstick consists of the entry of Handsome Smile and Alice's Notebook, Thrillin Discovery, Danaher Steven, and Ballado's Devil.

Ballado's Devil ran off three consecutive victories, including a game neck decision over Danaher Steve in the Forty One Carat Handicap earlier in the meet, but has tailed off a bit in his two most recent starts.

Alice's Notebook finished second, beaten a half-length by stablemate Fappie's Notebook, in the 2001 edition of the Groomstick. In his only start this season on July 22, he finished a troubled fourth under allowance conditions following a nine-month layoff.

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