05/08/2002 12:00AM

They'll meet again Memorial Day


MIAMI - Old friends Best of the Rest and Hal's Hope appear destined to bump heads once again as the connections of both horses are pointing their stars to the $100,000 Memorial Day Handicap on May 27.

Best of the Rest proved he is back on top of his game after posting his second straight convincing win in last Saturday's Phantom on Tour Handicap. Now 7, Best of the Rest closed out the Gulfstream Park meet with a three-length triumph over a similar group in the Unbridled Handicap.

"Right now we're planning on staying here for the Memorial Day Handicap and then, ideally, we'll look to take him out of town," said Eddie Plesa Jr., who trains Best of the Rest for owner-breeder Bea Oxenberg.

Plesa is off to a red-hot start at the meet, having won with six of the first 14 horses he's started. He is second behind Ralph Ziadie in the standings after the opening two weeks.

"A lot of my key horses ran hard all last year and were tired by the time they got to Gulfstream, so we freshened them up and got them ready for when we got back here," said Plesa. "It also looks like we've got a good crop of 2-year-olds in the barn."

One of those youngsters is Fines Creek, a son of Pentelicus, who won his debut handily on April 27.

Hal's Hope is back home after finishing fourth as the 6-5 favorite in the Grade 3 Texas Mile at Lone Star on April 27. He had won the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap and Grade 3 Creme Fraiche Handicap in his previous two starts.

"Those Texas riders banged him around pretty good at the head of the stretch at Lone Star," said Harold Rose, owner-breeder of Hal's Hope. "Fortunately, he came out of the race in good shape. We're going to keep him home for a while and point for the race here on Memorial Day."

Lord Juban rising

One of the rising young stars on the local scene is Lord Juban, a 3-year-old son of Lord Avie who made short work of six rivals to prove a popular winner of the Fabulous Frolic Stakes here last weekend. The victory was the second straight for Lord Juban, who also won Gulfstream's Caltech Handicap on the turf.

Lord Juban is owned by Nick Gonzalez, who races under the nom de course of the Jon Stable, and Sam Gordon's Gordon Racing Stable.

Trainer Tim Ritvo explained how the two partners came up with the colt's unusual name. "Sammy is Jewish and Nick is Cuban, hence the name Juban," said Ritvo. "Add the fact he's by Lord Avie and that's how he wound up being called Lord Juban."

Ritvo said he will now point Lord Juban to the $75,000 Simply Majestic Stakes here on June 1.

"I'm trying to bring this horse along slow, to let him develop and get sharper before looking to take him out of town for bigger races," said Ritvo, who led all Calder-based horsemen with 17 victories this winter at Gulfstream. "There are three turf races for 3-year-olds on the same day, July 21, in Delaware, Chicago, and at Colonial Downs. We'll nominate him for all three."