12/09/2004 12:00AM

'Spider' back for Axthelm

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MIAMI - The last time Frisky Spider raced in Florida he was taking on some of the best of his division in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. On Saturday, Frisky Spider returns to the Sunshine State in a bit more modest spot to meet a full field of 3-year-old turf specialists in Calder's $100,000 Pete Axthelm Stakes.

Frisky Spider tired badly and finished ninth after setting the pace in the Florida Derby. Trainer Bob Durso began looking for more suitable competition and experimented with the turf once he got Frisky Spider back north in the spring. He was rewarded with a pair of minor stakes victories. In one of those, the Restoration at Monmouth, Frisky Spider ran a mile on turf in 1:33.95.

"He can run on either surface, but I think he might be a little better on the grass," said Durso.

Durso said the 7 1/2-furlong distance of the Axthelm should suit Frisky Spider perfectly. He also said that Frisky Spider, a son of the multiple Grade 1 winner Frisk Me Now, is at his best when he is on the lead.

"We tried rating him a couple of times, but it just didn't work," Durso said.

Frisky Spider will break from post 2 in the 12-horse Axthelm field and figures to force the early running along with the extremely fast Heart of Jules. An honest pace would play into the hands of the likely favorite, Grand Heritage, who comes off perhaps his best effort, a rallying win in the Paterson Stakes at The Meadowlands on Oct. 8. Trained by Bill Mott, Grand Heritage drew the rail and will again be ridden by Cornelio Velasquez.

The Axthelm field also includes Sovereign Honor, Caiman, Quackers Appeal, Fort Prado, Gin Rummy Champ, Caballero Negro, Dashboard Drummer, More Bourb, and Wire Bound.

Wire Bound was the leader of the local 3-year-old division here this summer after registering a pair of easy overnight stakes victories over his home course at Calder, but he has tailed off a bit in his last two starts and is poorly drawn in post 12.

Quackers Appeal, on the other hand, is on a roll, having won each of his last three starts, all against older horses, while steadily ascending the class ladder. The Axthelm will be his stakes debut.

Fort Prado ships in from Kentucky, where he finished a late-running sixth in the Commonwealth Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 14.

Caballero Negro turned in an encouraging grass debut when he was fourth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Eddington, in the Grade 3 Calder Derby. He will be reunited with jockey Manoel Cruz in the Axthelm.