04/01/2009 12:00AM

Strawberry Tart in good spot to step up


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Strawberry Tart will step up in class Friday in the ninth race at Oaklawn Park, but she is a strong fit in the first-level allowance sprint for 3-year-old fillies for several reasons. Not only does she own the field's best career Beyer Speed Figure, but she also has been flattered since her 14-length maiden score here March 13, with three horses she defeated that afternoon coming back to win their next starts.

"We're hoping she's going to step forward and continue to improve," said Jeff Bonde, who trains Strawberry Tart for George and Mary Clare Schmitt. "She got the right group last time and was able to dominate. This is one more step up."

Strawberry Tart won a $30,000 maiden claiming race at six furlongs, and since that race, the runner-up, Sejano, has come back to win at the same level with a Beyer Figure of 72. The third-place finisher, Divine Design, came back to win her next start in a $30,000 maiden claimer with a Beyer of 65, and the fifth-place finisher, Smoky Belle, came back to win a $12,500 maiden claimer with a Beyer of 59.

As for Strawberry Tart, she earned a Beyer of 87 for her front-running win, which was her first race in blinkers. She also was making her first start since July 18. Strawberry Tart will break from the rail in the six-furlong race Friday, and Bonde has given the mount to Luis Quinonez.

Bonde, who is based in Northern California, brought a division of horses to Oaklawn for the first time this meet, and said he intends to return next season. He also said that following the close of the meet April 11, he will send horses to Texas for the Lone Star Park meet that opens April 9.

Strawberry Tart's competition Friday includes Abigail Gold, a neck winner of a maiden special weight at Oaklawn on March 7, a race for which she earned a Beyer Figure of 81. Quincy Hamilton has the mount on Abigail's Gold, who was a $300,000 yearling purchase. Donnie Von Hemel trains the Mineshaft filly for Cheyenne Stables.

Busy Mass, who is stakes-placed, will be making her first start since December on Friday. Cliff Berry has the mount on the filly for trainer Bret Calhoun.

Pterodactyls Rule, who was fifth last out to eventual stakes winner She's Our Annie, is another contender, with Eddie Martin Jr. riding for trainer Mac Robertson.