11/08/2007 12:00AM

Presious Passion has hope in Red Smith scramble

EmailOZONE PARK, N.Y. - After looking over the field for Saturday's $150,000 Red Smith Handicap, two things struck me. First, the 1 3/8-mile turf race will be lucky to retain its Gradeo2 status next year, and second, public handicappers would be lucky to hit 15 percent winners on a steady diet of inscrutable races such as this.

The Red Smith, scheduled for three turns on the Big A turf, attracted 16 horses (12 can start), but only two are graded stakes winners: Dreadnaught, the 2004 Red Smith winner, who has gone 1 for 25 in 2005-07; and Presious Passion, the 10-1 winner of the Grade 3 Cliff Hanger last out at the Meadowlands.

Presious Passion raced five times at Monmouth Park prior to his Cliff Hanger upset, including a second in the Bob Harding - a little $60,000 stakes that developed into a big key race during the summer. Third finisher Drum Major was subsequently beaten less than a length in two Grade 2 turf stakes at Saratoga, running second in the Fourstardave at 17-1 and third in the Bernard Baruch at 9-1; fifth-place finisher Big Prairie nosed out Drum Major for second in the Baruch at 22-1; and Grand Couturier, sixth as the 2-1 favorite, came back to win the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at 15-1 over 3-5 English Channel.

Three weeks before the Cliff Hanger, Presious Passion finished evenly behind Icy Atlantic's course-record mile in the Red Bank.

"In some of those races over the summer they just went too fast for him early on," said trainer Mary Hartmann, whose turf ROI currently hovers near the $3.50 mark. "I think [the distance] will be fine for him. He should settle behind the leaders and have plenty of time to make his run."

Though Presious Passion has never been past 1 1/8 miles, the more immediate concern may be a rainy forecast late Friday and early Saturday. He has been consistent on firm turf this year, but appeared to dislike good and soft courses in his last two starts of 2006.

The soggier the turf gets, the more interesting Sunshine Kid (12-1 morning line) becomes. Though the 3-year-old has only a maiden win on his r'esum'e, he was classy enough to be beaten just a neck in a Group 2 earlier this year; and though he finished last of 20 in the French Derby, he was beaten only 7 1/2 lengths - less than six lengths behind Shamdinan, who won the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes in August.

Thanks to the presence of Florida shipper Golden Strategy, the pace figures to be faster than it was for the recent Awad Stakes, an overnight event at Belmont that Tricky Causeway wired through very slow fractions. Tricky Causeway is back, and so are a handful of horses who gave futile chase last time, notably Godolphin Racing's True Cause, who was shuffled back early between horses and closed steadily as the fractions quickened late. He looms a major threat despite being eligible for third-level allowance conditions.

"It's very hard to get long allowance races to fill," said Rick Mettee, who oversees Godolphin's New York string for Saeed bin Suroor. "The last race gave him a chance to try longer distances against good horses. I talked with Saeed, and he said they thought this horse was better than he showed in Europe, and he could improve as he gets older. With a big field going 1o3/8 miles, you are obviously going to have to get lucky to win."

Time to tune in to Calder

With Gulfstream Park less than two months away, now is a good time to start focusing on the racing at Calder. The quality of the fields tends to improve in late fall as horses trickle down from the Northeast, and horses who raced in New York this season lend interest to several Florida-bred stakes on Saturday's card.

* In the $150,000 Jack Price Juvenile, the leading local 2-year-old Wise Answer turns back from routes and takes on Darley Stable's Smoke'n Coal, a $550,000 purchase in training earlier this year who won both of his sprints at Belmont by open lengths.

* In the $100,000 John Franks Juvenile Fillies Turf, the fastest horse by the Beyer Speed Figures is the maiden Elle Cashareau, who earned a 79 running fourth in her debut at Belmont - a super key race behind Backseat Rhythm, who ran second in the Frizette and third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and Country Star, who got her maiden victory next out in the Grade 1 Alcibiades.

* In the $100,000 Arthur Appleton Juvenile Turf, the top Beyer on grass also belongs to a maiden based in New York during the summer - Big Al, who recorded figures of 71 and 68 at Saratoga. The 68 came in a tough trip when steadied through the first turn and again in upper stretch.