01/27/2005 12:00AM

Newark returns for Swift

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PHOENIX - Many of the best sprinters on the grounds are among seven gunning for Saturday's $40,000 Swift Stakes at Turf Paradise. The six-furlong event features Palmerton and Flying Supercon, one-two finishers in the Jan. 11 Answer Do here; Newark, maybe the top sprinter on the circuit, who returns from an unsuccessful Southern California invasion; and Bold Merit, who was fifth in the Answer Do but has been among the elite here in the past two years. The Swift is a stepping-stone to the $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup on March 19, the marquee event of the meet.

Favoritism likely will fall to Newark. Trained by Keith Bennett, Newark won 4 of 5 starts, including three stakes, here during 2004. He won the Grand Canyon here last April, then shipped to California for solid thirds in Santa Rosa's Ernest Finley and Del Mar's Pirate's Bounty. He came back here in the fall to win the Caballos del Sol over Palmerton and Grimm - now a multiple stakes winner - and the Zip Pocket over Flying Supercon. Newark's connections then tried big game - the Grade 3 Vernon O. Underwood at Hollywood Park on Dec. 5. Newark, however, steadied at the start and was never able to get involved, finishing fifth against some of the West Coast's better sprinters. He has been freshened and returns to a course he loves and to jockey Wilson Dieguez, who was aboard for those last three wins and who leads the jockey standings here.

"He hasn't lost any fitness," Dieguez said of Newark's 54-day layoff. "I was on him for his last work, a half-mile in 47.20. He'll fire fresh."

Newark had better be fit, because Palmerton and Flying Supercon come here sharp. Both ran big in the Answer Do. Palmerton, trained by Lyman Rollins, broke slowly that day but closed powerfully to get the head victory.

"We won that stake coming from way out of it," said his regular rider, Miguel Hernandez. "But Palmerton's versatile. He can move whenever I ask him."

Flying Supercon, from the Dan Morgan shed row, dueled through sizzling splits in the Answer Do and just failed to hold off Palmerton in the final strides.

"That was the first time I rode him," said rider Jake Barton. "He's got both speed and stamina. He's not afraid to battle with another horse."

Bold Merit, trained by Bryan Porter, won four in a row here from Nov. 12, 2003, through Feb. 28, 2004, the last three being stakes. He then shipped to Oaklawn and won the March 28 Rainbow for Arkansas-breds in the slop. He wasn't seen again until Dec. 20, when he ran a dull fifth in the Rocket Bar.

Bold Merit was an even fifth in the Answer Do. He has worked well since, and if he is able to get back to his top form, he can certainly be a factor.