Updated on 09/17/2011 1:09PM

Slam defenders face stiff challenges

Email

MIAMI - Three of the four reigning champions from last year's Grand Slam II card will be back to defend their titles Saturday at Calder.

New Economy, winner of the Grade 2 La Prevoyante, as well as Milt Wolfson-trained stablemates Stormy Frolic (Stage Door Betty Handicap) and The Judge Sez Who (Fred W. Hooper Handicap), were all entered Monday for the 12-race Grand Slam II program. Only Man From Wicklow, winner of the 2002 W. L. McKnight Handicap, will not return to defend his crown as a result of an injury that has kept him sidelined since the spring.

Oddly enough, none of the three defending champions will likely be favored.

New Economy, who rallied to a 1 1/4-length victory in the 2002 La Prevoyante, is coming off a half- length triumph in the Grade 3 My Charmer Handicap earlier this month. But she will be part of one of the deepest and most talented fields in the 29-year history of the La Prevoyante.

This year's group includes California invaders Lady Annaliese and Go on Baby, one-two finishers in Hollywood Park's Hermosa Beach Handicap, and Spice Island and Volga, first and second in the Grade 2 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct.

Trainer Christophe Clement has already won four editions of the 1 1/2-mile La Prevoyante. He will send out both Mariensky, a multiple graded stakes winner who finished fourth in the Long Island, and Sixty Seconds, a winner of her only two U.S. starts.

"Mariensky lost her form a little this summer but seems to be coming back now," said Clement. "Sixty Seconds is a pure stayer who should love the distance."

A field of 10 fillies and mares was drawn for the 1 1/16-mile Stage Door Betty, with Stormy Frolic drawing post 8. The race will also see the return of Cellars Shiraz, an eight-time stakes winner who has not started since finishing third in the Grade 3 Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs on May 24.

Among the other key contenders in the Stage Door Betty are Redoubled Miss, May Gator, Pampered Princess, and Splasha.

The Judge Sez Who ran down arch-rival Best of the Rest to win the 2002 Hooper but has started only three times since because of a knee injury that laid him up from April through mid-November. He returned and finished third behind Best of the Rest off only two works in the Carl G. Rose Classic Handicap and has continued to train extremely well since that much-needed outing.

Best of the Rest will be the starting highweight under 122 pounds and must break from the outside in the nine-horse Hooper field. The Grade 3 Hooper also lured Aeneas, who is winless on the year but has hit the board in four straight graded stakes and in five of six graded stakes dating back to his second-place finish in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap.

The Grade 2 McKnight could be the best race of the day. Balto Star will be the 121-pound highweight and figures to play catch me if you can once again off his 3 1/4-length victory over a soft turf course in Aqueduct's Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap. The likely favorite figures to be Continuously, a Bobby Frankel trainee who was awarded the victory in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup on the disqualification of Epicentre. Runaway Dancer, who easily defeated Continuously in the Carleton F. Burke Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 24, will also fly east for the race.

The deep McKnight field also includes Macaw and Cetewayo, who finished second and third behind Balto Star in the Red Smith.

Castro sheds bug, wins three

Eddie Castro, among the leading contenders for an Eclipse Award as the year's outstanding apprentice rider, began life without the bug on Monday.

But Castro, the meet's leading rider, had little problem making the adjustment, winning three races on the card.

Castro will win his first U.S. riding title when the Tropical at Calder meet ends on Jan. 2, as he holds a commanding advantage over M.R. Cruz and Eibar Coa heading into the final two weeks of the meet.