11/29/2007 12:00AM

Minister's Joy can upset Host

EmailNEW YORK - The focus on premier racing begins its annual late-season shift to warmer climes Saturday, as the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park and four stakes events at Calder Race Course top the national stakes schedule.

Tropical Turf Handicap

Host was beaten less than three lengths when fifth in the Breeders' Cup Mile last time out, and was beaten only a little more than three lengths when fifth to the high-class Shakespeare in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile two starts back. And before those two races, he finished a close third in a pair of graded New York turf stakes. Host should be asked to carry the grandstand in a spot like this, and yet he somehow isn't even the topweight in the race. Go Between is, and he has to concede four pounds to Host. Go figure.

In any event, Host will take a lot of beating Saturday. He will also be a short price. There is, however, an appealing betting alternative in Minister's Joy, whose odds will be much bigger than Host's.

Minister's Joy's recent form is somewhat darkened by two unsuccessful outings on Polytrack, and his being overmatched in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap. But if you filter out those races, his turf form is in the ballpark with Host's. Minister's Joy was a good second at Keeneland two starts back off a near three-month layoff. He was a terrific third five starts back to the good graded stakes winner Shakis, and he won twice during his Florida campaign late last fall and winter. Shug McGaughey, Minister's Joy's trainer, always among the best in his profession, has been sneaky sharp lately, winning stakes with Criminologist and Hunting. And it is also interesting to note that for a horse not based at Calder, Minister's Joy has a fine record on the turf there, with 2 wins and 1 second from 3 starts.

My Charmer Handicap

Projecting the pace scenario in this race is an interesting exercise, but I'll take Bayou's Lassie to lead wire to wire.

And Bayou's Lassie is attractive here for reasons beyond pace considerations. She narrowly lost a stakes on dirt most recently on Florida Millions Day, and now moves back to turf, the surface she prefers. Her recent near miss was her first start in two months and only her second start since January, so she easily could improve. And she was a sharp second in this race last year, which is the only time she has been beaten on the Calder turf course in five starts, four of them stakes.

Bayakoa Handicap

These might prove to be famous last words, but this really does look like a two-horse race between Sugar Shake and Tough Tiz's Sis. And while Sugar Shake regained winning form most recently in the Turnback the Alarm Handicap and now cuts back to a 1 1/16-mile distance that is right in her wheelhouse, I prefer Tough Tiz's Sis.

Tough Tiz's Sis's distant seventh in the Breeders' Cup Distaff is best ignored. Not only was she up against the best, but she caught the kind of wet track that she has been unable to handle.

But her two races before that were arguably the best of her career. In September, Tough Tiz's Sis was beaten only 2 1/2 lengths in the Gazelle Handicap, finishing behind Lear's Princess, who went off favorite in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and Rags to Riches, who will likely be voted champion 3-year-old filly.

After that, Tough Tiz's Sis gamely edged Hystericalady in the Lady's Secret, and Hystericalady showed how good she is when she came back to narrowly lose in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.