07/05/2001 12:00AM

Tabac, Pure Precision battle in Criterium


MIAMI - The early leader of the local juvenile division will be decided on Saturday when Tabac and Pure Precision square off in the $100,000 Criterium Stakes at

5 1/2 furlongs. The 30th running of the Criterium, whose roster of winners includes champion sprinter Smile, drew a field of seven.

Tabac turned in far and away the best performance by a 2-year-old during the Hialeah meet, while Pure Precision has easily been the most impressive juvenile to run during the opening five weeks of this meet.

Tabac won his maiden in a stakes, overcoming a slow start to capture the $50,000 Hialeah Juvenile by three lengths over Barnacke Steve. Barnacke Steve flattered that effort by returning to easily defeat preliminary allowance company here last weekend.

In his only other start, Tabac finished second behind Cherokee Road after breaking slowly, but avenged that setback in the Hialeah Juvenile.

"He didn't break well from the gate in either of his two races, but we've been working on that," said Pablo Andrade, who trains Tabac for Prag Racing Inc. "I haven't run him since he won the stakes because I wanted to work him here a few times and get him used to this track before I ran him over it. And he's been working very well."

Angel Castillo will take his regular seat aboard Tabac on Saturday.

Pure Precision was dominant in his only start, defeating maiden special-weight company here by nearly 11 lengths on June 2 while covering five furlongs in 59.80 seconds. The performance earned him a 94 Beyer Speed Figure, one of the top marks earned by a 2-year-old this year. He, too, has continued to train well for the Criterium and like Tabac is not eligible for the upcoming Florida Stallion Series.

Trainer Manny Tortora has already said that a big effort on Saturday would likely earn Pure Precision, a son of Montbrook who is owned and bred by George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable, a trip to Saratoga later this summer. Sebastian Madrid will again be aboard the Pure Precision, the probable favorite, who gets Lasix for the first time on Saturday.

O'Rocky, an impressive winner over a wet track with the addition of blinkers and Lasix on June 16, and Crypto's Knight, a maiden, may be best of the others. The remainder of the field is Juggernaut, Whos Twining Who, and Bog Hunter.

The Criterium will be supported on Saturday's 11-race live card by the $50,000 Georgia Stakes Race, a one-mile restricted stakes for fillies and mares on the turf. Queen of Oz, coming off a win in the Aspidistra Stakes, appears to hold a decided edge in the Georgia Stakes, especially if the race is on a soft course.