01/26/2006 12:00AM

Silver Tree extra tough as Bailey's final mount

Jim Lisa Photos
Silver Tree would be favored even if he were not retiring jockey Jerry Bailey's last ride.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - From a handicapping standpoint, Silver Tree looks like a perfect fit in Saturday's $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream Park. The Bill Mott-trained turf specialist is the class of the field, he is coming off a win at the distance in a Grade 3 stakes eight weeks earlier at Calder, and he is undefeated in three starts over the local course.

would have been the favorite even under normal circumstances in the 1 1/8-mile Sunshine Turf. But these are not normal circumstances since Silver Tree will be the final mount of Jerry Bailey's Hall of Fame career. As a result, Silver Tree figures to go off at an even shorter price than normally would have been expected, and a shorter price than any prudent handicapper might be willing to accept in a full and deep field of 12 Florida- and California-bred grass specialists.

Beating Bailey and Silver Tree won't be easy. The 6-year-old son of Hennessy held his own with the elite of his division on several occasions in 2005. He was beaten just 1 1/4 lengths when finishing second behind Eclipse Award champion Leroidesanimaux in Saratoga's Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap and second, beaten only a half-length, to Breeders' Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap.

Silver Tree finished a late-running third, one length behind Star Over the Bay, at Santa Anita in the 2005 Sunshine Millions Turf, and he figures to be even tougher this winter since the race is being run over his favorite course.

"He's doing fine and is coming off a good race," said Mott. "I think there's a little added pressure this being Jerry's final ride, and I really want the horse to come over on Saturday as good as we can get him. Hopefully he'll be able to settle nicely, have some pace to follow, and get a clear run from the three-eighths pole to the wire."

There are many options for those looking for a little more value for their betting dollar. Among other options are California invaders Willow O Wisp, Captain Squire, Eastern Sand, and We All Love Aleyna, as well as local hopefuls Icy Atlantic and Stormy Roman.

The early pace figures to be honest and could compromise the chances of Willow O Wisp and Captain Squire, both of whom are at their best when on the lead.

is the more likely winner of the pair. A much improved 4-year-old, Willow O Wisp was beaten only four lengths by some of the premier turf horses in the world when a tiring ninth in the Group 1 Hong Kong Turf Cup. The loss snapped a three-race win streak that included victories in the Del Mar Derby and La Jolla Handicap, both Grade 2 races.

Captain Squire earned a career-best 106 Beyer Speed Figure when beaten a head by The Tin Man going a mile at Santa Anita in December. A Grade 1 sprint winner on dirt, Captain Squire may have distance limitations as he's yet to win beyond a mile on grass.

Icy Atlantic was only a half-length behind Silver Tree while finishing best of all in the 2005 Sunshine Turf and comes from the potent team of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez.

The field

Sunshine Millions Turf
Purse: $500,000; 1 1/8 miles, turf

1Miesque's Approval (FL)E. Castro12220-1
2Stormy Roman (FL)M. Smith12220-1
3Gin and Sin (FL)J. Castellano12220-1
4Silver Tree (FL)J. Bailey1225-2
5Eastern Sand (FL)E. Prado1205-1
6Dream On Dream On (FL)J. Leyva12020-1
7Willow O Wisp (FL)P. Valenzuela1209-2
8Night Dash (CA)C. Decarlo12050-1
9Captain Squire (FL)A. Solis1224-1
10We All Love Aleyna (FL)R. Bejarano1228-1
11Touched by Madness (FL)S. Bridgmohan12020-1
12Icy Atlantic (FL)J. Velazquez1226-1
Also eligible:
13Ballonenostrikes vJ. Lezcano12230-1
14Be My Buddy (FL)B. Blanc12220-1

* Odds by Art Gropper
* Television: Saturday, 4:30-6 p.m. (Eastern), NBC