10/09/2001 11:00PM

Purse belies field's class in Spend a Buck


MIAMI - With a purse of only $100,000, the Spend a Buck Handicap isn't one of the more lucrative stakes on Saturday's rich Festival of the Sun program.

Nonetheless, the race has drawn a field that includes Grade 1 winners Sir Bear and Hal's Hope, the injury-plagued but extremely talented Best of the Rest, the veteran Dancing Guy, and the up-and-coming High Ideal. The combination makes the Spend a Buck possibly the most competitive and classy event on the 13-race card.

Sir Bear, Hal's Hope, and Dancing Guy will all share highweight of 117 pound in the 1 1/16-mile Spend a Buck. It seems a soft assignment for Sir Bear, but despite a resume that includes career earnings of nearly $2.4 million and three Grade 1 victories the, 8-year-old has never won a stakes race over his home grounds. He will also be seeking to make amends for a disappointing third-place finish as the 4-5 favorite in his last local appearance, the 2000 Fred Hooper Handicap, in which the local hero went down to defeat carrying only 118 pounds.

Best of the Rest will make just the 15th start of his career and only his third since winning the 1999 Spend a Buck by nearly 10 lengths over Dancing Guy. Despite tender knees, the 6-year old has won seven times, four of those victories coming in stakes and all of them over his home course.

Bob Umphrey, Calder's racing secretary, has put together a strong 13-race program for Saturday that includes seven stakes worth $1.5 million and not a single claiming event. Now all he is looking for is a break in the weather after having the 1999 Festival of the Sun postponed one week because of Hurricane Irene and all three of the turf stakes on last year's Festival card canceled because of a tropical storm.

"I'm pleased we got some shippers, and the response from local horsemen was wonderful," said Umphrey. "I think this card is a great statement about the quality of our local horses. And I'm just glad I was able to put it together without having to worry about any hurricanes for a change."

Repeat bid in Oaks

Trainer Christophe Clement, who has dominated turf stakes here throughout the last several seasons, will seek to defend his title in the $200,000 Calder Oaks with Sheppard's Watch. The English-bred filly, a multiple listed stakes winner in Europe, finished fourth behind stablemate Voodoo Dancer in her lone U.S. appearance, the Grade 1 Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap. Clement won the 2000 Oaks with Lucky Lune.

The Oaks will also feature local favorite Platinum Tiara, who returns to south Florida and trainer Joe Waunsch after four unsuccessful outings in the Northeast for trainer Neil Howard.

Waunsch, who saddled Platinum Tiara to finish second in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, said the filly was due to fly in on Wednesday. "Naturally I'm excited to have her back, although I'm not sure if she'll be staying or I'll be sending her back to Neil after the Oaks," Waunsch said.

Platinum Tiara finished second to her older stablemate Silver Bandana when making her only previous start over the local turf course earlier this year in the Calder Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Along with Sheppard's Watch and Platinum Tiara, the Oaks drew a strong field that will include Sara's Success, O K to Dance, and Happily Unbridled, who was cross entered against older horses on the dirt in the $100,000 Shocker T. Handicap.