01/22/2004 12:00AM

No sure thing among cast in Hoover


A pair of sprinters who were multiple stakes winners in 2003, plus two other classy veterans who were stakes placed with triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures last season, form the nucleus of a good betting race in Saturday's $75,000 Hoover Stakes at Laurel Park.

Gators N Bears, narrowly beaten by six-furlong specialist Shake You Down twice since November, and Native Heir, who set a Gulfstream Park track record in last winter's Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap, are the logical favorites in a field of 11 older horses going six furlongs.

But neither one is a sure thing, facing a group that includes 7-year-old geldings Deer Run and Sassy Hound, who have combined for 21 lifetime victories and more than $907,000 in earnings.

The 4-year-old Gators N Bears has posted Beyers of 100, 108, and 105 in his last three starts. He was nosed out for second by Shake You Down in the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial Dash last Nov. 15 and finished third to Shake You Down, beaten four lengths, in the Grade 3 Gravesend Handicap at Aqueduct last month.

Native Heir, part of a Michael Gill-owned entry with My Good Trick, won four stakes last season at distances ranging from five to 6 1/2 furlongs. His form soured when he was 10th, beaten 38 lengths, in a minor stakes at Charles Town in October, but after a freshening, Native Heir returned to the West Virginia track on New Year's Day to easily win a 4 1/2-furlong allowance.

Sassy Hound appeared in peak form when he won a high-priced optional claimer on Dec. 3, earning a 102 Beyer, but regressed badly when he finished last a month later against similar competition.

Trainer Ben Feliciano blames himself for Sassy Hound's flop.

"Sassy was starting to look like the old Sassy before his last race," said Feliciano. "But I worked him five days before he ran. He worked quicker than I wanted and left his race there. I take full responsibility for that effort. He has been a very consistent horse and doesn't often get beat by too many lengths. He looks sharp in the barn and if he is looming right off the pace, watch out."

Sassy Hound is coupled with Crossing Point, who is cross-entered in Saturday's Paumonok Handicap at Aqueduct. Feliciano said he intends to run Crossing Point in New York.

Deer Run has not won in more than 15 months, but when he gets sufficient pace to set up his late kick, he can still be dangerous.