01/22/2004 12:00AM

Super High: Cal-bred who's worth a wager


It would be swell if the California vs. Florida showdown Saturday were to be something other than a complete mismatch. But if the intent of the Sunshine Millions program is to create good-natured rivalry between the California and Florida breeding programs, it will fall short for the second straight year.

Based on quantity and quality, Florida-bred runners are expected to lambaste California-bred runners in similar fashion to 2003, when they won seven of the eight races. Beyond the 51-33 advantage in entrants, the 2004 Florida-breds possess more depth and quality than their California-bred counterparts. Five of the eight races favor Florida-bred runners; two others are toss-ups.

In only one race, the $300,000 Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, can a California-bred runner be considered the most likely winner. But even 6-5 favorite Silent Sighs is no cinch. She scratched Monday from a Grade 2 stakes on her home track, shipped cross-country to Gulfstream, drew the rail going six furlongs, habitually refuses to change leads in the stretch, and faces a formidable rival in Florida-based win machine Wacky Patty.

But from a wagering perspective, so what? The series features eight good races on which to gamble, no surefire favorites, and a variety of handicapping dilemmas.

First, the four races at Gulfstream Park:

$300,000 Oaks (six furlongs, 3-year-old fillies): Silent Sighs's last-start romp was flattered when runner-up Yearly Report returned Monday and scored a crushing Grade 2 win. Yet formerly California-based Wacky Patty (a Florida-bred) will give Silent Sighs a battle. Wacky Patty is fast, and racing at home. The Oaks is a two-horse race. If the odds are out of line, a bettor must back the highest price. In all likelihood, it will be Wacky Patty.

$300,000 Sprint (six furlongs, 4-year-olds and up): Green Team is the lone California-bred, and his recent Quirin-style pace and speed figures are below par. Call it an upset if he wins. Shake You Down is the legitimate favorite, while Valid Video deserves another chance after suffering a pulled stifle in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Thunder Bullet (bred in Florida) is likely to regress if he follows the pattern of most horses claimed in California by owner Michael Gill and trainer Nick Canani.

$500,000 Distaff (1 1/16 miles, fillies and mares): Royally Chosen is the lone California-bred, and her situation is the same as Green Team's. Royally Chosen's recent pace and speed figures have fallen below par. She has lost a step. California shipper Pesci (a Florida-bred) has worlds of potential, but is getting a lot of attention because of her ownership. Her best Beyer Speed Figure is 94, but she won her last start geared down. This race is begging to be won by an unpredictable weirdo.

$500,000 Turf (1 1/8 miles on turf, 4-year-olds and up): In a turf race, a bettor can simply find the best horse, and if the price is right, go to the window. But it is not easy for Man From Wicklow. He drops out of a series of graded stakes, but has not raced in nine months. At his morning line of 12-1, the gamble is that Man From Wicklow is still the best horse, even following the layoff. Neither California-bred runner can be supported: Adminniestrator was claimed last out by Gill and Canani, and Bourbon County is outclassed.

On to Santa Anita.

$250,000 Dash (six furlongs, 3-year-olds): The Beyer Figure of 98 that Ice Wynnd Fire earned running second Dec. 26 is suspect, because the winner returned with an ordinary Beyer of 92. The Santa Anita track favored the inside Dec. 26, however, and Ice Wynnd Fire was three wide throughout. Ice Wynnd Fire towers over his rivals, including California-bred Don'tsellmeshort, whose best Beyer is 86. There is a potential bomber: dropper Pioneerman, who will be forwardly placed in a field without much speed. The three Florida-breds have the three highest last-race figures - Ice Wynnd Fire, Baronage (95), and Saint Afleet (86).

$300,000 Filly and Mare Sprint (six furlongs, fillies and mares): Six furlongs is not the right distance for California-bred and -based Super High, yet the fact she went the first half-mile of a 7 1/2-furlong race in 44.60 seconds two starts back and wound up missing by a head suggests she can handle the tougher pace of this shorter sprint. Not only that, she is a fat 12-1 on the line. Calder shipper Barbara O'Brien fits off her last-start Beyer of 104, though six furlongs could be short for her, too.

$500,000 Filly and Mare Turf (1 1/8 miles on turf, fillies and mares): Lost Appeal, at a track morning line of 8-1, could be the best gamble on the card. She drops out of graded stakes, and she meets a modest group of California turf mares who take turns beating one another. Lost Appeal, a deep closer, will race over a course that, when the rails are down, is fair to all styles. California-bred Moscow Burning is the top local hope. Early favorite Valentine Dancer would prefer one mile.

$1 million Classic (1 1/8 miles, 4-year-olds and up): Peace Rules is favored only because someone must be favored. This race is impossible, more so because of an excruciating pace scenario that includes five front-runners. Peace Rules can win only if he can sit, which he hasn't done since last spring. A bettor who insists on backing a front-runner in a speed-filled race may consider 20-1 shot Excessivepleasure, the speed of the speed. Continental Red is more effective on grass, yet the race could unfold for his style.