11/16/2001 1:00AM

No Cigar for 'Best of Rest'


MIAMI - Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. had designs on next week's Grade 1 Cigar Mile for his handicap star Best of the Rest. Instead, he made a last-minute decision to forego the trip to New York and stay home for Sunday's $35,000 King Rex Handicap at Calder. The 1 1/8-mile King Rex drew a field of six older handicap runners.

"It was a tough decision and boiled down to taking the path of least resistance," Plesa explained. "He's training great but flying from here to New York is a negative, especially since he just came off perhaps the best race of his life and might not come back with the same kind of performance off that type of effort. And when I finally run him against that caliber of horses I want everything in his favor."

Best of the Rest, whose career has been short-circuited on several occasions because of knee problems, rallied to a 2 3/4-length victory over Dancing Guy and Sir Bear in the Spend a Buck Handicap here last month while making his first start around two turns since winning the 1999 Spend a Buck.

Plesa has plotted out a three-race schedule that includes the Fred W. Hooper Handicap here on Dec. 29.

"He's training great so for now the plan is to run him in here, come back for the Hooper, and then hopefully go in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream."

About the only way Best of the Rest could get beat in the King Rex is if he does not handle the distance. He finished a tiring third in the 1998 running of the Hooper, the only previous time he has tried to stay nine furlongs.

"The only concern I have with him is soundless and right now he's sound," said Plesa. "The distance is not a problem. When he ran in the '98 Hooper he came back bad after the race."

Rene Douglas will replace regular rider Eibar Coa, who is currently in Saudi Arabia, aboard Best of the Rest for the King Rex.

First Lieutenant, a much improved son of Sea Hero who has captured 3 of 5 starts this season while also finishing second in the Grade 2 Iselin Handicap and fourth in the Grade 3 Fayette, appears to be Best of the Rest's chief rival on Sunday.

Hal's Hope, Watch Your Pennies, Puchungo, and American Halo round out the lineup.