04/22/2006 12:00AM

Running Lass vs. Stolen Prayer


MIAMI - Running Lass and Stolen Prayer, generally regarded as the top two 2-year-old fillies stabled regularly in south Florida last season, will face one another for the first time this year on Tuesday in the $45,000 Snurb Stakes.

The six-furlong Snurb is the feature race on opening day of the 2006 Calder season. Running Lass, trained by Angel Salinas, was the queen of the local 2-year-old filly division during the early stages of 2005 after scoring three straight stakes victories, including the first two legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes. But her quest to sweep the series proved disastrous as she finished a distant ninth in the 1 1/16-mile My Dear Girl Stakes.

That setback began a streak of five straight losses for the speedy filly, a skein that was finally snapped when she won the Ocala Breeders' Sales Sprint by four lengths on March 20.

Stolen Prayer became the best of the local 2-year-old fillies division during the latter stages of the year and into 2006. A daughter of Songandaprayer, she finished second after setting all the pace in the My Dear Girl, led throughout to win the Three Ring Stakes, and then opened her 3-year-old campaign with a solid second behind the undefeated and odds-on favorite J'ray in the Tropical Park Oaks on the turf.

Stolen Prayer, trained by Eddie Plesa Jr., is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Florida Oaks behind Bushfire, recent winner of the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. Stolen Prayer contested the pace for six furlongs in that 1 1/16-mile race at Tampa Bay Downs.

The potential for an early speed duel between Stolen Prayer, Running Lass, and Red Liquor n' Lace in the six-furlong Snurb could set the race up for a closer like Amazing Speed, who rallied from fifth place turning for home to win a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream Park on March 17.

No Hear Say, Psalms of Praise, and Rgirldoesn'tbluff complete the lineup.

Last season's top trainers set goals

Tim Ritvo and Henry Collazo, who won their first Calder training titles last season, return with full stables this year.

Ritvo won 45 races to win the 2005 Calder championship by a single victory over Eddie Plesa Jr. Collazo registered 17 victories to capture the Tropical at Calder crown.

"Winning the title was a great accomplishment," said Ritvo. "We've tried to upgrade our stock this year to have a little better quality. It would be great to defend the championship, but we're going to try to win some stakes races, too.

"We bought some nice 2-year-olds that will hopefully be good enough to run in the Florida Stallion Stakes."

The top horse in Ritvo's barn is R Loyal Man, a multiple stakes winning 3-year-old who is among the nominees for Saturday's $100,000 Unbridled Stakes. R Loyal Man worked six furlongs in 1:14 here Saturday.

Collazo said he will also be focusing on his 2-year-olds this season.

"I look forward to this time every year with the 2-year-olds because you don't know what you have yet," said Collazo. "It's a cycle with young horses. I was not as competitive last summer, but by the time Tropical came around I was loaded for bear. Now that cycle starts all over again."

Cruz top choice to supplant Castro

With two-time reigning Calder riding champion Eddie Castro off to Monmouth Park for the summer, Manoel Cruz will be heavily favored to win the title which has eluded him the past two years. Cruz did overtake Castro, who spent much of the final month of the meet serving riding suspensions, to win the Tropical at Calder championship.

Among the new riders on hand for the opening of the meet will be Jose Lezcano, the leading jockey at Tampa Bay Downs, Abel Castellano Jr., Elvis Trujillo, Alfredo Clemente, and apprentice Jeffrey Sanchez.

Castro will accept mounts at Calder during the opening week of the meet before moving on to New Jersey. The Monmouth meet opens May 13.