02/28/2008 12:00AM

Miracle Wood favorites bring different styles

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Gattopardo will be hustling from the gate, Malibu Kid will be stalking and set to pounce, and Vanderkaay will trail early and close hard late. Most likely, one of the three will end up winning the $70,000 Miracle Wood for 3-year-olds Saturday at Laurel Park.

Gattopardo comes off a 4 3/4-length romp in first-level allowance company, owns the Miracle Wood's top last-out Beyer Speed Figure (91), and he did it at the Miracle Wood's seven-furlong distance.

"This is a first step into stakes company, so he has a lot to prove, but I could not be happier with him," said Tim Tullock, trainer of Gattopardo.

One problem is that Gattopardo may need the lead, and longshot Tricky Start has shown even better early speed.

Malibu Kid's best Beyers (85 and 86) are a shade too low, but he comes in off a seven-length blowout win last out in first-level allowance company and he almost always fires (2 wins and 2 seconds in 5 starts). He also has A-list connections in jockey Jeremy Rose (winning at a 30 percent clip this meet) and trainer Rodney Jenkins (24 percent winners) - and, like Gattopardo, a win at the distance.

Vanderkaay won the $50,000 Dancing Count at Laurel last out on Feb. 2, closing from eighth, 11 lengths back at the first call, and crossing the wire 2 3/4 lengths in front - good for a 90 Beyer. He worked four furlongs in a bullet 47.20 seconds Wednesday for this race.

"We're delighted with how he is coming into the race," trainer Ferris Allen said. "I would say we are very live."

If Apple Special, a front-runner or stalker, repeats his winning performance in the Maryland Juvenile Championship at Laurel on Dec. 29, he could spring an upset.

In his next and most recent start, the $109,000 Whirlaway at Aqueduct on Feb. 2, he ran a never-in-contention fifth, indicating he either was in over his head, didn't like that track, or has gone off form.

Another puzzler in the nine-horse field is Cave's Valley, who began his career with three straight wins and two Beyers in the 90s, the last in October 2007.

His two starts since were nowhere near as good, and his five published works since December show no signs of upswing.

"We did put blinkers on him and hope that helps," said trainer Mike Trombetta, who saddled the last two winners of the Miracle Wood - Sweetnorthernsaint and Crafty Bear. "We still have high hopes for him. I think he is a really nice colt."