01/14/2004 12:00AM

Second of June's stock rising daily

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Several months ago, Bill Cesare was entertaining offers to sell Second of June for a nice chunk of change, but the terms of a couple of proposals were not to his satisfaction, and a deal never got done.

Good for him. After declining to accept less than a mid-six-figure sum, Cesare continued to train the colt for himself and his mother, Barbara. The intervening months have been rewarding indeed: Second of June is a potential Kentucky Derby contender, and Cesare has taken the colt off the market after turning down an offer he said was in the $1 million range.

"It's not about the money," Cesare said. "I train racehorses, and this is the kind of horse we've been wanting for a long time. We're going to hold onto him."

Second of June, a Florida-bred by 1996 Preakness winner Louis Quatorze, will take a major step on the Derby trail when he runs Saturday in the $100,000 Holy Bull Stakes, the first two-turn stakes for 3-year-olds at the Gulfstream Park meet. Cesare, a former National Football League defensive back who took out his first trainer's license in 1984, is cautiously optimistic that the colt will be able to advance to the next race in the Gulf series, the Feb. 14 Fountain of Youth.

"I hope he wins Saturday, but I really have no idea whether he'll do that or not," Cesare said. Using an adage from his football days, he added: "That's why you line up and play on Sunday, to see who's got what it takes."

If Second of June performs Saturday the way he has in his last two starts, he should be highly competitive, at the very least. After winning a Nov. 3 allowance at Calder, his home track, by 4 3/4 lengths, he wheeled back to register a 97 Beyer Speed Figure in winning the Dec. 13 What a Pleasure Stakes by five lengths.

Twice as Bad and Silver Wagon, the respective second- and third-place finishers in the What a Pleasure, also are among the expected starters for the Holy Bull, a Grade 3 race run at 1 1/16 miles. Other probables are El Prado Rob, Friends Lake, Smoocher, and Hittheground-runnin.

Second of June got his name from his birthday: Both he and Cesare, 48, were born June 2. The June birthday makes the colt an unusually late foal, especially for a Derby hopeful, since most early-developing horses tend to have foaling dates no later than April. When he bought the colt for a mere $7,500 as a 2-year-old last January in Ocala, Cesare had a good feeling about the colt, if for no reason other than a sentimental one.

"It was one of those deals that the horse was born on my birthday and I thought somebody was trying to tell me something," he said. "The horse toes out a little bit, which is probably why we got him so cheap. If he was correct, we probably wouldn't have been able to get him."

Cesare is somewhat unconventional in his training methods: Whenever a horse is pointing to a route race, he frequently will give that horse a mile workout a week or more before the race. That pattern held true for Second of June before the What a Pleasure, and it holds for the Holy Bull - the colt drilled a mile last week at Calder in 1:41.60.

"That's the way I do it," Cesare said.

Best of the Rest retired at age 9

In a perfect world, Best of the Rest would be on a plane this week en route to California to defend his title in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita. Instead, Best of the Rest will be on a van Friday morning heading for Ocala, where he'll soon begin his new career standing stud at the Farnsworth Farm.

Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said owner Bea Oxenberg agonized over the decision whether to run Best of the Rest, her pride and joy, one last time. She ultimately opted to send Best of the Rest, a 9-year-old son of Skip Trial, to the farm. Oxenberg owned and bred Best of the Rest along with her husband, Bernie, who died in November.

"If the Sunshine Classic would have been here this year, chances are he would have run," said Plesa. "It was really a very tough decision for Bea to make, and shipping him to the other side of the country was the deciding factor."

Best of the Rest will retire with 16 victories in 32 starts and earnings of more than $1.4 million. He won three of six starts as an 8-year-old in 2003, adding Gulfstream's Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap and Calder's Carl G. Rose Classic to his earlier half-length triumph over Booklet in the inaugural Sunshine Millions Classic.

"The Sunshine Classic was the best race of his career," Plesa said. "It's really incredible, but his form was exactly the same at the end of 2003 as it was coming into the Classic a year ago. He was second in the Spend a Buck, won the Carl G. Rose, and was second in the Hooper. The only difference is he won't be running in the Classic again this winter."

Best of the Rest was injury-plagued throughout his racing career and had several long layoffs.

"Mostly it was knee problems," said Plesa. "And once his knees finally set up, he actually got sounder the older he got, and he retired 100 percent sound. There were times when his injuries were so severe it looked like he'd never come back at any level.

"To be running as good as he was against the competition he faced as an 8-year-old is truly amazing. I was blessed to have a horse like Best of the Rest. He had so much talent. But in the back of your mind, there was always that thought of how good he might have been had he been healthy. He was certainly one in a million."

Plesa said the stakes-winning mare Sara's Success has also been retired and will accompany Best of the Rest to Ocala on Friday, where she will be bred to Montbrook later this season.

Fields for Sunshine Millions shaping up

Fields for the four Sunshine Millions races that will be run here on Jan. 24 are dotted with standouts. A quick rundown, with noteworthy probables:

* $500,000 Ocala Breeders' Sales Distaff: Smok'n Frolic, House Party, Pesci, Ivana-vinalot, Cellars Shiraz.

* $500,000 Franks Farm Turf: Man From Wicklow, Miesque's Approval, Orchard Park, Proud Man, Stormy Roman, Western Pride.

* $300,000 Padua Stables Sprint: Shake You Down, Valid Video.

* $250,000 Ocala Stud Oaks: Wacky Patty, Desert Nova, Potion.

Four other Sunshine Millions races will be run the same day at Santa Anita.

Healthy again, Vous breezes five furlongs

Vous won Calder's Hollywood Wildcat Stakes in her 2-year-old finale but was forced to skip her expected 3-year-old debut in the Calder Oaks due to a minor illness. She appears to have recuperated nicely, however, and breezed five furlongs in 1:02.80 for trainer Tim Hills at Palm Meadows on Wednesday.

Vous could launch her 3-year-old campaign in the Gaily Gaily Stakes on Feb. 1.

* Racing will be conducted here Monday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Otherwise, Mondays will remain dark until March 1, when six-day race weeks begin.