01/23/2003 12:00AM

Look out, here comes The Judge

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NEW YORK - Whether it becomes a fixture on the early season racing calendar or proves to be a one-shot deal, the inaugural Sunshine Millions dominates Saturday's stakes action. The $3.6 million program of eight races - four at Gulfstream Park alternating with four at Santa Anita - for California and Florida statebreds certainly attracted the attention of horsemen. They responded by entering 96 horses.

Not surprisingly, with an average field size of 12, and with many horses opposing each other for the first time, most of the Sunshine Millions races offer bettors full, well-matched fields, resulting in several good betting opportunities. As if to underscore this, the richest Sunshine Million race, the $1 million Classic, sports an overflow field of 13, including one also-eligible, and a tepid 7-2 favorite.

Here are the three Sunshine Millions races that piqued my betting interest:

Classic

Best of the Rest is the favorite, and he will take some beating. But I think The Judge Sez Who, who upset Best of the Rest last time out in the Fred Hooper Handicap at Calder, can beat him again. The Judge Sez Who should be a square ticket again given the size of this field, and the fact Best of the Rest stumbled at the start as the favorite in the Hooper.

There is considerable early speed, setting it up for The Judge Sez Who's closing kick. With the way he fired shipping all over the country last year, The Judge Sez Who should have no difficulty at Gulfstream for the first time.

Best of the Rest may not be quite as effective at Gulfstream as he is at Calder. Best of the Rest just turned 8. The Judge Sez Who just turned 4, and he earned a career best Beyer Figure of 106 winning last time out, suggesting he still has some upside potential.

Turf

With a lot of stretch-out speed suspect at the distance here, this is going to be an "accordion race," meaning the field figures to be spread out down the backstretch, but will contract on the far turn when the speed surrenders. I want a horse who can finish, and I'm going to take a flyer here with 30-1 longshot Special Matter.

Special Matter, who was claimed for only $12,500 last May, was freshened after a dull try in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup. But, before that, he won the first two starts of his career over the Santa Anita turf course, including the Grade 3 Carleton Burke. While both those wins were at 1 1/2 miles, Special Matter came home fast in both races, and he will be flying late here.

Turkish Prize is also dangerous. He ran big his first two starts off the claim, winning the Cal Cup Mile, and he stretches out second time off a layoff for a barn very adept with horses going from sprints to routes.

Filly and Mare Turf

Stay Forever finally got her career going last year, and yet it's the race she lost last season that makes her the pick here. Last time out in the Bonnie Heath, she closed strongly against males to be third, beaten just a length by Miesque's Approval, who is second choice on the morning line in the Sunshine Millions Turf. Considering the trouble she had, a case can be made that Stay Forever should have won. Stay Forever can close, and that's what you want with the way the Gulfstream turf course has been playing.

* Here are my picks in the other Sunshine Millions races: Fly Me Crazy in the Filly and Mare Sprint, Ivanavinalot in the Oaks, Excessivepleasure in the Dash, Echo Eddie in the Sprint, and Lost at Sea in the Distaff.