04/22/2007 11:00PM

Sprint stakes, 2-year-olds highlight 112-day meeting


For the 37th consecutive summer, hope will spring eternal at Calder Racecourse where the 2-year-old is king and many of the nation's fastest horses will once again have an opportunity to reach the "Summit" long before they begin thinking about the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Calder opens the doors on its 37th season Wednesday with the first of 112 programs to be presented through Oct. 14. The meet will be followed by the 60-day Tropical at Calder session, which runs from Oct. 15 through Jan. 2.

Calder will have an abbreviated racing schedule during the opening three weeks of the meet and again for several weeks this summer. There also will be twilight racing on Fridays, with first post at 2:55 p.m.

As usual, 2-year-old racing will be featured prominently throughout the meet, highlighted by the Florida Stallion Stakes program, which this year will be the richest ever. The season's marquee event remains the Summit of Speed on July 7, featuring eight sprint stakes worth $2 million and highlighted by the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap and the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap. The six-furlong $500,000 Princess Rooney, the first Grade 1 event in track history, will take on added importance with the Breeders' Cup offering the Filly and Mare Sprint for the first time this year.

Most of the regular faces will be on hand opening day, including the defending Calder jockey and trainer champions, Manoel Cruz and Bill White.

Among the new additions to the trainer colony this summer will be Wesley Ward, Vinnie Blengs, James Chapman, and Guissepe Iadisernia.

"I'm expecting to have a good meet, especially once the 2-year-olds start coming around," said Mike Anifantis who begins his second season as racing secretary at Calder. "We start off strong with four very good stakes on opening weekend, and the Summit of Speed should again be great. We've already gotten a good response from horsemen around the country. I expect it to be as good as, if not better, than last year."

Malibu Mint won the 2006 Princess Rooney, while Nightmare Affair used his victory in the Smile as a stepping-stone to a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

With four stakes on the schedule for Saturday, including the Grade 3 Miami Mile Breeders' Cup Handicap, Wednesday's opening day feature will be a first-level allowance race for 3-year-olds carded at six furlongs and offering a $26,000 purse.

El Bandido Rojo, who finished third and fourth in the opening two divisions of the 2006 Florida Stallion Stakes, will be the one to catch. His chief opposition should come from Nerve, who makes his first start since finishing a tiring sixth in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile on Sept. 30, and Steelix who exits a second-place finish in the Sophomore Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.