12/23/2003 1:00AM

Pelican has multiple contenders


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Full fields of competitive runners are becoming the watchword at Tampa Bay Downs and nothing illustrates that trend better than Saturday's $60,000 Pelican Stakes, a six-furlong race with a field of 14.

Deer Lake, a 4-year-old colt trained by Charlie Simon, may not race often but when he does he usually runs well. Deer Lake has won 4 of 8 starts this year and 8 of 16 lifetime. He is the choice in a race where the favorite could be 3-1 or higher.

Claimed for $62,500 on Nov. 5 out of a win, Deer Lake came right back to take an allowance sprint run over 6 1/2 furlongs in the slop in 1:18.53. He can run on the lead or stalk the pace and Simon's horses have come out smoking in the early days of this meet. Joe Judice, who is also off to a good start, with nine wins through the first five days of racing, will ride Deer Lake at 123 pounds.

Secret Romeo is a winner of 22 lifetime races, including last year's Pelican. He will get an additional furlong to strut his stuff after a fast-closing second in a five-furlong prep here. He is trained by Gerald Bennett, whose barn is also off to a good start. Terry Houghton, who came off a 14-month layoff in sharp form, rides Secret Romeo.

Western Pride, one of the better handicap runners on the West Coast last summer and a 10-time winner for earnings of $1,278,819 in his career, makes his first start since August. Trained by James Chapman, Western Pride finished second to Horse of the Year candidate Mineshaft in this year's Pimlico Special. While he may be most effective around two turns, Western Pride has too much class to ignore.

Barnacle Steve, who defeated Secret Romeo on opening weekend, certainly deserves consideration, as does Kiss a Native, a million-dollar earner from Layne Giliforte's stable. Jesus Castanon returns aboard Barnacle Steve at 117. Martin Ramirez rides Kiss a Native at 119.