01/04/2007 12:00AM

Stiffer test for Florida Keys


PHOENIX - Florida Keys has emerged as the top horse at Turf Paradise on the strength of consecutive stakes wins here this meet, one on the turf and one on dirt, but the water gets a lot deeper Saturday when he faces a number of tough shippers in the $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Handicap.

The mile turf race, named for the former Phoenix Suns coach, executive, and racing enthusiast, lured a field of nine and heads a stakes tripleheader with the $50,000 Glendale Handicap and the $45,000 Swift Stakes.

Trained by Troy Bainum, Florida Keys did good work for a few seasons in California prior to shipping here for the Nov. 11 Water R. Cluer at 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf. He stalked the pace that day, took over into the lane, and drew off to win nicely. He came back in the one-mile Black Mountain Handicap on the main track. Florida Keys sat in midpack, made a strong run to the lead, and looked beaten when headed in midstretch. But he re-rallied for the win.

Florida Keys will carry high weight of 123 pounds in the Fitzsimmons, race 7.

Florida Keys faces several tough California shippers, among them True Dancer, trained by Jeff Mullins. He invades off a game win over tough optional claimers on the turf at Hollywood Park. Last year, he shipped here for the Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup Handicap, finishing fourth as the 4-5 favorite.

Night Chapter ships in for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. He comes off a third in an allowance race at Hollywood Park. In September, he ran fourth in the Grade 3 Cliff Hanger Handicap at the Meadowlands.

Marbury ships in from northern California with good form. He has been first or second in three of his last four.

Glendale: Muir Beach back on turf

Local star Muir Beach tries to fend off a wave of Southern California shippers in the Glendale Handicap (race 9). The 1 1/16-mile turf race lured a field of 11.

Muir Beach carries high weight of 120 pounds after finishing third in the Mesa Handicap here Dec. 23. That was a dirt sprint, and Saturday she's back to routing on turf. In her last grass race, she won the Queen of the Green at a mile here Dec. 2.

Another local, Me O Me O My, was a strong second to Muir Beach, beaten a half-length, in the Queen of the Green.

Southern California invaders Arlene, Bend, Sagitta Ra, Yours Truly, and Grat loom threats.

Swift: Two sprinters on the rise

A dozen older horses are entered in the 5 1/2-furlong Swift Stakes (race 8). Two local up-and-comers, Snowbound Halo and Twin Sparks, head the field.

Snowbound Halo is unbeaten in his three outings, all over this track, including a smashing allowance win Dec. 8. Twin Sparks has won 4 of 5 and comes off two romping allowance wins here in November.

The local stakes winner Flying Supercon will provide them a tough test, as will recent allowance winner Point Dume, proven stakes sprinters Bay Town Boy and Corazonelcampeon, sharp Southern California invader Pure American, and Prorunner, who comes off a third behind Florida Keys in the Black Mountain Handicap.