03/19/2009 11:00PM

Soft turf isn't ideal for champ


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The much-needed rainfall that pelted the parched turf course earlier this week was a welcome relief to just about everyone here. Everyone, that is, except trainer Mary Hartmann, who will send out Presious Passion to defend his title in Saturday's $150,000 Pan American at Gulfstream Park.

Presious Passion won the Grade 1 United Nations over a yielding course last summer at Monmouth Park but finished far back over similar surfaces in both the Red Smith Handicap and Turf Classic Invitational later in the season. And Hartmann said she believes the firmer the better for her long-distance grass specialist.

"I'd rather the rain had come next week, to tell the truth," Hartmann said on Thursday. "I'm not thrilled with it but I think it's over now and this is a pretty quick-draining course which needed some moisture, so we'll just hope for the best. There are certainly some legitimate horses in the field who'll be tough to beat, especially if the turf is a little yielding."

Presious Passion is coming off one of the more impressive efforts of his career, a game half-length victory in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida on Feb. 21. Presious Passion pressed a very fast pace, drew off to a long lead after a mile, appeared to be beaten turning for home but dug in to fend off Quasicobra through a furious stretch drive in the 11-furlong Mac Diarmida.

"That was a super-amazing performance last time," said Hartmann.

Quasicobra and Spice Route, who rallied to finish another length farther back in third in the Mac Diarmida, will have an extra furlong to work with in Saturday's rematch with Presious Passion.

Quasicobra and Spice Route both own victories at the 1 1/2-mile distance of the Pan Am. Quasicobra had won two in a row prior to the Mac Diarmida and is steadily improving for trainer Dale Romans. Spice Route was second in the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine before shortening up to 1 1/8 miles to capture Calder's Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap in his 2008 finale.

Buddy's Humor figures to press the pace in the Pan Am. He led through late stretch before finishing second in the one-mile Canadian Turf earlier in the meet. Buddy's Humor finished fifth, two lengths behind Presious Passion last summer in the United Nations.

Sligovitz, South Handyman, and Nergal complete the field.