01/18/2002 1:00AM

No shortage of closers in stakes

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Those who have followed turf racing at Gulfstream Park this winter know the course is extremely biased toward closers. The problem in handicapping Sunday's $100,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap is the majority of horses in the field are late-running sorts.

The Grade 3 Mac Diarmida, run at 1 3/8 miles, drew an overflow field of 17 runners. Only 12 will be permitted to start.

The top five finishers from last month's McKnight Handicap at Calder are back in the Mac Diarmida, led by Profit Option*, who rallied from last to win the McKnight by a half-length. Trainer Kenneth Hoffman said the main reason he is running Profit Option back in three weeks is because of the way the Gulfstream turf course is playing.

"I'd rather wait for that next race," Hoffman said, referring to the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders Cup Handicap on Feb. 16, "but being the track's the way it is and he's doing so good I decided to run."

Before the McKnight, Profit Option had severe gate trouble in stakes at Chicago and Kentucky. He had no such trouble in the McKnight.

"Whenever he acts like a gentleman, he'll pretty much run his race," Hoffman said.

Deeliteful Irving closed strongly in the McKnight, but fell a half-length short of Profit Option. Trainer Todd Pletcher felt his horse was inhibited by losing ground on two of the three turns in the McKnight.

"He ran a big race in the McKnight, and I would expect him to come back and run better," Pletcher said. "We would love to see a good honest pace up front, or at least a realistic half-mile."

Eltawaasul, Serazzo, and 2000 Mac Diarmida winner Unite's Big Red figure to make the early pace. Deeliteful Irving has to overcome post 12, however.

The horse to beat may be Crash Course. He raced closer to the pace than usual when he finished fifth in the McKnight. He is a two-time winner over the Gulfstream Park turf course and gets the services of Jerry Bailey for the first time. Bailey has won seven of the 21 turf races run at the meet.

The value of the race could be Revved Up, who won two allowance races in New York last November, including one at this distance where he defeated Deeliteful Irving.

Monkey Puzzle is a three-time victor over the Gulfstream turf, including a win in the 11-furlong Hialeah Turf Cup, held here in 2000.

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