03/09/2007 12:00AM

Round Pond low-risk proposition in return


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Horses coming off extended vacations, especially those making their first start since an important victory - like Round Pond and her triumph in the Breeders' Cup Distaff - often prove vulnerable at short prices when they return the races the next season.

Just ask the horseplayers who bet and lost on odds-on favorites Dreaming of Anna and Miesque's Approval in their 2007 debuts earlier in this Gulfstream Park meet.

But in Round Pond's case, the risk maybe is not as great when she returns from four-month layoff as the 122-pound highweight and heavy favorite in Sunday's $200,000 Rampart Handicap.

First, Round Pond came back from a seven-month vacation last winter at Oaklawn Park and won her 2006 debut with what still is her career-highest Beyer Speed Figure of 102.

Second, and perhaps even more important, trainer Michael Matz is extremely confident that Round Pond is ready to come off the bench with a big effort.

"I'm not concerned about the time off," said Matz, who trains Round Pond for the Fox Hill Farms. "She's wintered well and is training just as good now as she was before the Breeders' Cup. We're ready to go, and this looks like a good spot to go on from here - hopefully to the Apple Blossom."

Regular rider Edgar Prado will ride Round Pond, who has had six recorded works at the Palm Meadows training center this winter, the last three being bullets, including a 46-second half-mile last Sunday.

Round Pond will concede from 5 to 10 pounds to the opposition, with Grade 1 winner Swap Fliparoo likely to be her most dangerous opponent. The remainder of the field includes Miss Shop, Classy Charm, Prom Me Up, and Tiger Belle.

Swap Fliparoo will stretch out to a 1 1/8 miles for the first time in her career. In her previous start, this stretch-running daughter of Exchange Rate rallied to an easy 6 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Sabin Handicap at a mile.

The versatile Miss Shop, like Swap Fliparoo trained by Allen Jerkens, will return to the main track for the first time since finishing third in Aqueduct's Gradeo2 Top Flight Handicap on Nov. 24. A daughter of Deputy Minister, she won the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm Handicap at the same 1 1/8-mile distance of the Rampart three weeks before the Top Flight. She is also a multiple stakes winner on grass.