01/24/2002 12:00AM

Not much separating Hoover competitors

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How closely competitive is the field of older sprinters in Saturday's $50,000 Hoover Stakes at Laurel Park? Eight of the 10 horses earned a Beyer Speed Figure between 96 and 100 in their last start.

And the other two runners aren't exactly throwouts. The Deputy Is Home, a 4-year-old colt trained by John Scanlan, is undefeated after four career starts, crushing his rivals by a combined margin of 25 lengths while racing at distances between six furlongs and 1 1/16 miles.

Am I Too, an 8-year-old who hasn't won since August 2000, was nevertheless good enough to finish within 1 1/2 lengths of Maryland Million Sprint winner Jorgie Stover in October and has prepped for the six-furlong Hoover with consecutive bullet workouts at Bowie.

With little to separate this accomplished group, it may be wise for handicappers to watch the tote board carefully to find value.

The least likely horse to offer attractive odds is Governor's Pride, winner of 10 of 18 lifetime starts. A 5-year-old gelding trained by Tim Ritchey, Governor's Pride has gone off as the favorite in six of his last seven starts. He won four times during that stretch, including the Chief Pennekeck at The Meadowlands when he was a generous 5-1.

There should also be considerable action on Trounce, who comes into the Hoover off back-to-back solid efforts against top caliber allowance runners in New York. Trounce, third in last year's Hoover, finished 4 1/4 lengths ahead of his closest rival in his most recent start, but was disqualified for drifting in on another horse.

Adam Cat, part of a Howard Wolfendale-trained entry, and Rusty Spur are two other sharp horses stepping up in class.

Adam Cat, a 6-year-old claimed for $25,000 in December, has reeled off four straight wins, including the two best Beyers of his career (102 and 100) in his last two starts.

Rusty Spur, a 4-year-old claimed for $20,000 in November, has won four of his last five races, usually by leading wire to wire. He makes his first stakes appearance after beating up on first-level allowance and optional claiming company.

Jorgie Stover needs a fast pace to make his closing kick effective. His career-best Beyer of 100 came when he upset the Maryland Million Sprint at 17-1. He seems to be approaching that peak form, based on the 96 Beyer he earned in his first start off a layoff in a statebred stakes late last month.

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