04/17/2003 11:00PM

Skip Away choice comes in off clunker

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - In 28 career starts, Best of the Rest has rarely given a performance that had his trainer, Eddie Plesa Jr., searching for reasons to toss out the race. But that was the case after the 8-year-old Best of the Rest's last start, a sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap.

Plesa expects Best of the Rest to bounce back and run one of his more typical races when he runs as the high weight and one to beat in Sunday's $75,000 Skip Away Handicap at Gulfstream Park. The Grade 3 Skip Away drew a field of six older handicap horses, including Best of the Rest's Calder-based arch rival, The Judge Sez Who.

Best of the Rest has finished first or second in 20 of 28 career starts and appears to be getting better with age, having scored the richest victory of his career here earlier this winter in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic. But he never seemed comfortable in the New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds, struggling down the backstretch and finishing 11 lengths behind Mineshaft.

"He just didn't handle the Fair Grounds surface," Plesa said. "That track historically has a way of affecting horses the first time over it. So I'm just going to blame his poor performance on the track and forget about it."

With Aqueduct dark Easter Sunday, jockey Eibar Coa will leave there and keep his regular seat aboard Best of the Rest.

The Judge Sez Who has not started since finishing fourth, 2 1/2 lengths behind Best of the Rest, in the Sunshine Classic. Trainer Milt Wolfson had The Judge Sez Who pointed for the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, but was forced to scratch the horse after he injured his hind leg when getting cast in his stall two days before that race.

The Judge Sez Who is seeking to even his series with Best of the Rest on Saturday. They split their first two meetings before Best of the Rest beat The Judge Sez Who in the Sunshine Classic.

Consistency, a lightly raced son of Unbridled, is the biggest question mark in the Skip Away. Undefeated and relatively untested in three starts, Consistency will get a major class check on Saturday.

"His lack of experience might hurt him in this race, but it's time to find out where we're at with him right now," said his trainer, Tom Proctor.

Roger E., Catlike Move, and Dancing Guy round out the field.

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