02/22/2007 12:00AM

Mustanfar seems ready to peak


NEW YORK - The three richest events on Saturday's stakes schedule share two things in common: They are scheduled to be run on turf, and the purse of each race is Breeders' Cup enhanced. These races are the Grade 1, $300,000 Gulfstream Park BC Turf, the Grade 3, $150,000 Bayou BC Handicap at Fair Grounds, and the $150,000 Tampa Bay BC.

Gulfstream Park BC Turf

This is an inspired spot for Honey Ryder, one of the best turf mares in the country, as underscored by her win in the Flower Bowl Invitational and third in the BC Filly and Mare Turf in her last two starts. She is meeting a group of males who aren't of true Grade 1 caliber. But this is a point that won't be lost on the betting public. So, I'm going with Mustanfar.

Although Mustanfar has more layoff lines in his past performances than you would like to see for a 6-year-old, he does look primed for a peak effort. He recently returned from a 10-month absence and came from way back to be a gaining fourth in the local prep for this, the Mac Diarmida Handicap. Going back a bit, Mustanfar has a few races that make him very competitive in this spot, such as his sharp third in this event in 2005 and his win as a 3-year-old over older in the Sycamore BC. Of course, that was back in 2004, but Mustanfar's recent comeback suggests matching or even surpassing that kind of form is well within expectation. It also helps that the pace Saturday should be honest enough to flatter his closing style.

Bayou BC Handicap

With 4 wins and 3 seconds from 8 career turf starts, and with those three seconds all being narrow misses in graded turf stakes in her last three outings, J'ray is certainly a deserving favorite here. But the Warrior is about searching for value, not favorites, especially in a full field like this. So I will look elsewhere.

I would find Baghdaria a more interesting betting option at a better price, since she is bred to be very effective on turf and has races - specifically wins in the Indiana and Iowa Oaks - that would make her at least the equal of any other member of this field. But trainer Tom Amoss said Baghdaria probably won't run if this race stays on turf, which is strange considering her pedigree. In view of the sensational Fair Grounds meet Amoss is having, however, it's likely foolish to question his thinking.

Elle Runaway is appealing here at what should be square odds. Her overall form is somewhat darkened by a few races at inappropriate distances, or on the wrong surface. But she comes into this race suitably fresh, much like she did in her last turf attempt three starts back. That was in the strongly run Canadian Stakes, in which Elle Runaway was a close third. She was beaten less than a length for second by Arravale, who came back to win the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes.

Turf Paradise Handicap

Although he had success at extended distances in his native Brazil, Heroi Do Bafra's first two starts in this country suggest he might have better success, at least in the near term, at middle distances. Since Heroi Do Bafra is cutting back to a middle distance Saturday, not to mention dropping significantly in class, he is the play.

Heroi Do Bafra went 1 1/4 miles last time out in the Grade 2 San Marcos Handicap, and though he took the lead in the stretch after attending a slow pace, he weakened late to finish fourth. With a good amount of early speed in this field, Heroi Do Bafra can return to the closing style he employed going a mile in his North American debut, finishing well to be second in an optional claimer.