12/30/2004 12:00AM

Rich in Spirit vs. big-name rivals

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Skip Smith
Rich in Spirit, undefeated in three turf starts, is one of the most accomplished fillies in the Tropical Park Oaks.

MIAMI - It's early in the year. Way early. Trainer Tom Proctor knows that some of the fillies who will face Rich in Spirit in the Tropical Park Oaks might eventually surpass her in scope and deed, but until that happens, Proctor will stand pat with what he's got.

"Right now, my filly's a little more proven than the others," said Proctor. "Right now. That's the way you've got to look at it, I think."

is part of a full field of 3-year-old fillies scheduled to square off Saturday in the 18th running of the $100,000 Tropical Oaks on the Grand Slam III card at Calder Race Course. Unbeaten in all three of her starts on grass, Rich in Spirit figures as one of the deserving favorites in what figures to be a pivotal race in a pick four wager that carries a $250,000 guarantee.

Despite her perfect turf record, Rich in Spirit may not be the favorite, and that's because several of her rivals have more stylish pedigrees for high-profile connections and therefore seem to have more upward mobility. That group includes , a Dynaformer filly who recently won a Calder turf allowance for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin; Brazilian, a sharp recent maiden winner over the Calder course for Todd Pletcher; and Dansetta Light, another recent local winner who will have John Velazquez aboard Saturday.

Still, Proctor believes they all must beat Rich in Spirit. After starting her career with two defeats on dirt, the filly switched to grass in late August, and she promptly won at Arlington Park. After that, she was best in a solid field at Keeneland, then shipped from Churchill Downs to win a restricted turf stakes at Calder on Nov. 13. All three wins came in professional off-the-pace style.

"These other fillies broke their maidens this fall," said Proctor. "Mine did it in August and went on to do a couple nice things. I'm not saying she won't get beat, but to this point, she's done everything right on the grass. I can't hardly ask her for anything more, at least not yet."

As many as 12 fillies will run in the Oaks, the 10th of 12 Saturday races. In case of scratches, three fillies await on the also-eligibles list.

Stage Door Betty: Edge to invaders

South Florida's local contingent of filly-mare dirt routers has been thin in recent months, although Redoubled Miss and Pampered Princess both had productive years. On Saturday, both figure to be upstaged in the $100,000 Stage Door Betty Handicap (race 11) by two highly accomplished invaders trained by Hall of Famers: Passing Shot, a Grade 1 winner of more than $630,000 for Allen Jerkens, and Personal Legend, a winner of more than $400,000 for Bobby Frankel.

Passing Shot (post 5) has raced only once since mid-June but figures to be sharp off a layoff and could be the one to beat in the 1 1/16-mile Stage Door Betty. Personal Legend (post 3) seems slightly better on grass than dirt but seems capable of winning in this spot, especially with Jerry Bailey aboard.

A field of seven fillies and mares was entered, with Redoubled Miss, a runaway winner of the My Melanie here three weeks ago, drawing the outside post for trainer Ron Spatz.

Happy New Year: Elke looks tough

The fourth and last leg of the guaranteed pick four is the $50,000 Happy New Year (race 12), a five-furlong turf race for 3-year-old fillies. Elke, with Velazquez riding for Pletcher, might have a tactical advantage given a clean trip from the outside post. But Elke figures to have to get by several speedy locals, including Running Bobcats, Lady in Pink, and Glittering Tax.