03/23/2006 1:00AM

Military Major nicely placed


OLDSMAR, Fla. - An interesting optional claiming route, featuring the Oklahoma Derby winner Military Major in his second start of 2006, and a pair of very competitive starter handicap races highlight Saturday's card at Tampa Bay Downs.

Military Major, from the powerful Kinsman Stable of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, finished just two lengths back of The Daddy in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs last fall, using that race as a springboard for success in the $150,000 Oklahoma Derby. He came from well off the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Oklahoma Derby and emerged from a long stretch duel with a three-quarter-length win over Real Dandy and Golden Rainbow.

Given a break after finishing off the board in the Fred Hooper and Pete Axthelm stakes at Calder, Military Major came back to make his 4-year-old debut in an allowance race going seven furlongs here in mid-February. He never got untracked, finishing sixth in a race that had a half-mile clocking of 44.89 seconds and one of the faster seven-furlong final times of the meeting at 1:23.73.

A Rahy gelding, Military Major has come back with two solid workouts since that race and looks much more comfortably placed at 1 1/16 miles in Saturday's race, to be run as the sixth of an 12-race program.

Gumba, who has a win and a second the last two times he has raced around two turns at Tampa Bay, tops the threats to Military Major, who will carry 120 pounds and T.D. Houghton. Derek Bell will take over aboard Gumba. Firebrooke, who has won two of his last three outings, looks like the chief speed of the field, and Jose Lezcano, the meeting's leading rider, will return aboard Firebrook at 120.

Skip's Singer goes after her third straight win in the filly-and-mare division of the Tampa Turf Test at 1 3/8 miles, while Professor Biggs, winner of 2 of his last 3, and Pitchnicholas, who comes up from south Florida off a victory over tough allowance rivals, head the male division of the Test.