05/25/2001 11:00PM

Speedsters must avoid duel

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MIAMI, Fla. - Something must give when speedsters Forty One Carats and Hal's Hope square off against six others in Monday's $75,000 Memorial Day Handicap going 1 1/16 miles at Calder.

The last time Forty One Carats ran at Calder he set a six-furlong track record while winning the Smile Sprint Handicap in October. He comes off three straight sprint races since returning from a winter freshening and has always shown keen early speed in routes.

Hal's Hope has always done his best on the front end, as evidenced by his gate-to-wire victories last year in the Holy Bull Stakes and Florida Derby, and his lone win this season, an easy front-running score in a Gulfstream Park allowance March 16. In his last start, Hal's Hope finished a tiring sixth in the Texas Mile after engaging in an exhausting early duel with favored Wooden Phone.

"So far he's won all his races on the front end and that's probably what you can expect to see again Monday," said Harold Rose, the owner, breeder, and trainer of Hal's Hope. "He got hooked right from the start in Texas and that's a situation we hope to avoid this time around."

Any thoughts of taking Hal's Hope off the pace in the Memorial Day Handicap probably ended at the post position draw when he drew the rail. Roger Velez will again be aboard.

David Fawkes, trainer of Forty One Carats, said his horse may try to sit off of Hal's Hope early in the Memorial Day.

"It would be suicide to run with Hal's Hope," he said. "We'll just burn each other off if we both go for the lead, so we'll probably have to sit off because I'm sure he's going to want the front. When right, my horse is versatile and you can do anything you want with him."

Forty One Carats is seeking his first victory in five tries since his huge effort in the Smile Sprint. His best try this season was a troubled second behind I'm Sentimental in the Hialeah Sprint Championship.

Abel Castellano will have the mount.

Among those looking to take advantage of what may prove a front-end duel between Hal's Hope and Forty One Carats are late runners American Halo and Tahkodha Hills.

American Halo returns from New York, where he was badly outrun in the Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap. That was his first start since posting back-to-back Grade 3 wins in the Skip Away and Fred Hooper handicaps over the winter.

Tahkodha Hills, who shares high weight of 118 pounds with Forty One Carats, appears to be rounding back to his best form and comes off a hard-fought victory over General Grant in Hialeah's Coral Gables Handicap.

Completing the line-up are General Grant, Reporter, Dancing Guy, and Select Decor.