12/04/2003 12:00AM

Stay Forever will overcome layoff


New York - Here we go again.

In the first week of December last year, an early season snowstorm struck the Northeast, proving only to be the first of many measurable snowfalls during a brutal winter.

Well, as the first weekend of December this year approaches, another early season snowstorm is in the forecast. This storm is threatening weather conditions Saturday at Aqueduct in New York, where the $100,000 Queens County Handicap is the headliner, down to Laurel in Maryland, where the $100,000 Geisha Handicap, which was rescheduled from last Saturday due to a high wind cancellation, and the $60,000 Politely Stakes share top billing, all the way west to Turfway Park in Kentucky.

And the weather promises to be perfect Saturday at Calder Race Course, which also has a stakes doubleheader, consisting of the Tropical Turf and My Charmer handicaps. Each race is worth $100,000, and both are on the turf, a surface in the Northeast that, perish the thought, could be buried under a half a foot of snow Saturday.

Here are my three featured stakes:

My Charmer Handicap

A turf race is perhaps the only situation in which I would have no reservation picking a horse coming off a nine-month layoff, and that is precisely what I'm going to do here with Stay Forever.

The reasons why such long layoffs aren't as important on turf have to do with the surface itself, and the way turf races are run. Turf is a less demanding, more forgiving surface than dirt. And unlike dirt races, where the pace is often all out from the start, the pace in turf races is usually soft early with a short sprint home, putting less of a premium on conditioning.

As for Stay Forever, she won off a 20-month absence early in her career, and hails from the Martin Wolfson barn, which not only is adept at bringing horses back off layoffs, but also is having a sensational meet (eight wins and six seconds from its first 21 starters). Stay Forever has a powerful late kick, is 5 for 7 on Calder's turf, and if she runs back to her Sunshine Millions score of last January, the others won't be able to stop her.

Queens County Handicap

Thunder Blitz is the firm pick here for a few reasons. First, he comes into this off a strong second in the Stuyvesant Handicap, in which he surged late to miss by a neck to the capable Presidentialaffair despite being significantly compromised when the latter got loose on the lead through slow fractions.

Secondly, Thunder Blitz is trained by Richard Dutrow Jr. The Stuyvesant was Thunder Blitz's first start for Dutrow, and he responded by earning a career best Beyer Speed Figure of 106. Since then, seemingly everything Dutrow has put on the track has run its eyeballs out. In fact, he won with three of his first four starters since racing at Aqueduct moved to the inner track.

Finally, Thunder Blitz can be stalking a pace that is likely to be set by Unforgettable Max. The latter is a tough customer off his near miss after a wide trip last time out in the Discovery Handicap, but Thunder Blitz is a little better.

Tropical Turf Handicap

Irish Colonial's recent form isn't as poor as it looks, and since he has found a favorable spot here to rebound, I'm going with him.

Irish Colonial caught a ridiculously deep turf course that he probably didn't handle last time out when a badly beaten favorite in the Mohawk Stakes, and was overmatched in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap two starts back. But he was strong winning his first two starts this year, and was competitive in tougher graded stakes last year. He may find himself sitting a perfect trip behind a pace contested by Millennium Dragon and Last Stand - and sharp recent workouts suggest that Irish Colonial will be able to capitalize.