02/06/2003 12:00AM

Skycrossing has potential, faces test

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Winter racing in Maryland isn't considered prime territory for producing a 3-year-old destined to make an impact on the Triple Crown trail. But it does happen.

Two years ago, for example, Talk Is Money defeated Marciano and Bay Eagle to win the $50,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park. All three horses competed in the Triple Crown that spring.

Seven of the nine colts entered in Saturday's Miracle Wood are Triple Crown nominees and could use the 1 1/16-mile stakes as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things.

Skycrossing, who trounced maidens by 12 1/2 lengths in his 3-year-old debut while earning an 87 Beyer Speed Figure, is the field's most intriguing prospect and might have the most upside.

Trainer Francis Campitelli experimented by sending Skycrossing around two turns on Jan. 15 after Skycrossing had finished second in a pair of seven-furlong races at age 2. Skycrossing responded with a dominating, wire-to-wire performance. His six-furlong fraction of 1:12.83 and final time of 1:44.74 for 1 1/16 miles were very close to the times of 1:12.59 and 1:44.00 posted by older high-priced optional claimers later on the same card.

Skycrossing may have trouble getting the same kind of uncontested lead he enjoyed in his maiden victory, however, due to the presence of Gators N Bears, a three-time sprint winner who earned a 96 Beyer at six furlongs in his most recent race.

It's possible to make a case for at least five other horses in the wide-open race.

Penobscot Bay won both of his starts as a 2-year-old, then made his stakes debut in the Count Fleet at Aqueduct a month ago and did well to finish third after a three-wide trip in the mud.

Skamper will be making his first start since he finished second in the Remington Mile in Oklahoma Dec. 1. Prior to that, Skamper scored back-to-back wins at Churchill Downs and Arlington Park.

New York-based Auto City adapted well to his first start beyond six furlongs when he ran second, beaten 1 3/4 lengths, in a first-level allowance. He earned a 91 Beyer for that effort.

Gimmeawink, the tepid morning-line favorite at 3-1, stretches out after a series of sprints, including a second in the six-furlong Dancing Count last time out.

Intensive Dancer, claimed by trainer John Robb for owner Mike Gill for $40,000, earned a career-high 90 Beyer in his first start for his new connections against allowance foes in late December.

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