03/14/2008 12:00AM

Mac Diarmida offers a challenge

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Pick a horse, any horse, and you might have just as good a chance of selecting the winner of Sunday's $150,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap as if you spent hours poring over the past performances trying to handicap the wide-open race.

Only two pounds separate the highweights from the lows in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida, which will be decided at 1 3/8 miles on the turf. Stream of Gold and Presious Passion will tote top weight of 117 pounds in a field of 14 that includes two also-eligibles.

Stream of Gold continues to run well, yet still frustrates trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. He has finished in the money in 4 of his 5 U.S. appearances, including the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational and W.L. McKnight Handicap. However, he is without a victory on this side of the Atlantic. He was a beaten favorite for the second time in succession, when third in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap here three weeks earlier.

Presious Passion upset Stream of Gold when rallying to a 1 1/4-length victory in the McKnight, but was unable to duplicate the performance in each of his last two tries at shorter distances.

True Cause stretches back to his favorite distance after finishing a troubled fifth under allowance conditions Feb. 7. True Cause finished second in both the Awad and Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap in his only two previous starts at the 11-furlong distance of the Mac Diarmida.

"His last start came in a pretty hot allowance race, which was a prep for the Mac Diarmida, which we'd picked out for him earlier this winter," said Rick Mettee, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "And a mile and three-eighths is a little better distance for him than nine furlongs against good horses."

Drilling for Oil also will be better served going 1 3/8 miles than he was in his previous two starts, which came at a mile earlier in the meet.

"He ran credible going a mile, although, admittedly, those two races didn't set up for us well," trainer Ken McPeek said. "Timing is everything with him, and hopefully he'll settle better and he can put it all together Saturday."

Drilling for Oil won the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap going 1 1/2 miles last spring at Churchill Downs.

Silver Whistle also demands respect coming off a confidence-building one-length allowance win earlier in the meet. The victory was his first since he captured the Gradeo3 Pan American Handicap here during spring 2006. Silver Whistle was Grade 1-placed later that year when finishing second in the Sword Dancer Handicap.