02/15/2007 1:00AM

Smart and Fancy on the improve


NEW YORK - Presidents Day Weekend Saturday brings an eclectic stakes schedule, featuring some graded events for older females - the Barbara Fritchie Breeders' Cup Handicap at Laurel, and the Sabin and Hurricane Bertie handicaps at Gulfstream - a graded sprint for older males - the San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita - and, of course, some races for 3-year-olds, notably the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Barbara Fritchie Breeders' Cup Handicap

Silmaril will be tough. She was dominant winning her last two starts to improve her career record at Laurel to 7 wins from 12 starts. She is a career .500 winner at this seven-furlong distance, and she should get the right kind of early pace to set up her late run. But Silmaril is facing a much tougher group than the ones she so easily dispatched recently, so she offers no betting value as the chalk.

I like Smart and Fancy. Smart and Fancy's last three races were solid, particularly her most recent, which was the only one of the three she lost. That was in the Interborough Handicap on New Year's Day, when she fell a couple of jumps short of getting up despite getting slammed out of the gate and being in the untenable position of catching a loose leader in the slop over Aqueduct's inner track. Before that, Smart and Fancy won two straight starts at Laurel, including the Maryland Million Oaks.

Smart and Fancy's last three performances were distinctly higher in quality than her previous efforts. When she began this stretch last fall, she was still a relatively lightly raced 3-year-old. She may have turned a corner, and she might have more upside potential than the 6-year-old Silmaril.

San Carlos Handicap

This year's Sunshine Millions Sprint was a strong race, and I was impressed with Proud Tower Too's game second in it. I'm looking for him to lead this field wire to wire.

Proud Tower Too showed exceptional early foot to open a clear early lead in the Sunshine Millions Sprint field. And though he couldn't kick in the stretch with the winning Smokey Stover, Proud Tower Too still showed something. For a moment in midstretch, it appeared that Proud Tower Too might finish off the board. But he fought back, and clearly reclaimed second from the highly respected Bordonaro. Proud Tower Too does face two formidable challengers Saturday in Latent Heat, winner of the quickly run Malibu, and Siren Lure. But I'm not sure how strong those 4-year-olds were in the Strub Series, which began with the Malibu, and a deep closer like Siren Lure is rarely my cup of tea in sprint stakes like this.

Hurricane Bertie Handicap

Any Limit and Contrast ran well finishing first and second, respectively, in last month's First Lady Handicap. Any Limit won despite a slow start, and Contrast, who dueled for the lead, was coming off a seven-month absence. But there is a new shooter worth playing in this race - Stormy Kiss.

Last summer, Stormy Kiss was a sharp third in the Genuine Risk Breeders' Cup. She finished behind Behaving Badly, who was no worse than the second-best female sprinter in the country last year behind Dubai Escapade, and Swap Fliparoo, who came back to win the Grade 1 Test Stakes. Stormy Kiss followed with a victory in the Honorable Miss Handicap against Malibu Mint, who had just won the Princess Rooney in an upset over Dubai Escapade - Dubai Escapade's only defeat of the year. Stormy Kiss showed good speed in both of those races, and that's the approach she figures to take Saturday, what with some sharp recent workouts, and having drawn the rail.