01/18/2009 12:00AM

Stakes a starting point for Gresham

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Gresham is one of the main reasons trainer Jimmy Baker is back at Oaklawn Park for the first time since 2003. The horse is a candidate for the track's 3-year-old series, and his first local start will come on Monday in the $50,000 Smarty Jones.

The one-mile stakes figures to produce starters for the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 16. Among the other 3-year-olds set to start are stakes winners Bertsgoldenmissile and Proceed Bee, as well as Professor Z, who makes his stakes debut following back-to-back wins at Aqueduct.

Gresham, who was third in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park in September, overcame trouble to win a first-level allowance at a mile at Churchill Downs in his last start Nov. 29.

"It was a very game race," said Baker, who trains Gresham for Courtlandt Farm. "At the three-eighths pole he was in a traffic jam - nowhere to go."

Baker said that just as Gresham found room and began to make his run, a horse in front of him began to drift, first to the outside and then to the inside.

"He finally got out and just got up to win," Baker said. "He ran a very, very game race to go through all that. A lot of horses would get discouraged and quit running on you."

Gresham will break from post 2 under Calvin Borel. He could get a stalking trip behind Bertsgoldenmissile, who is stretching back out to two turns after finishing second in the $60,000 Old Hickory at 5 1/2 furlongs at Fair Grounds on Nov. 22.

Another who could show speed is Silver Bayer, who draws the rail. He is making his two-turn debut following a 7 3/4-length win in an optional claiming sprint at Turfway Park on Dec. 7. It was his first start for owner Tom Schueck and trainer David Vance after being claimed for $50,000 at Churchill in November.

"He's by Smoke Glacken, which is not really a premier distance horse, but he's built more like a distance horse," said Vance.

"He's done all we've asked of him so far. We've run him once and he won pretty handy."

Terry Thompson has the mount on Silver Bayer.

Professor Z owns the field's best last-race Beyer Speed Figure, a 91, for his 5 3/4-length win in an optional claiming route at Aqueduct Dec. 7. Luis Quinonez has the mount for trainer Steve Asmussen.