03/09/2006 1:00AM

On Thin Ice looking to rebound


OLDSMAR, Fla. - On Thin Ice, winner of the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap in January but then last over a sloppy strip in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in February, will attempt to get back on the right track Saturday, when he heads a field of 13 in the Budweiser Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Oliver Castillo will ride On Thin Ice, who will be seeking his sixth career win in the 1 1/16-mile Budweiser.

The primary challengers to On Thin Ice appear to be Tap Day, who will be making his first start since running in the rich Japan Cup last fall, and Seek Gold, who finished third behind On Thin Ice in the Hal's Hope and then seventh in the Donn.

Jose Velez Jr. will ride Tap Day for trainer Mark Hennig, while Jeremy Rose will be on Seek Gold for trainer Nick Zito.

, trained by Joe Orseno, was winless in five outings last year but turned in some strong efforts. In one of them he led until late in the Grade 3 Fayette Handicap at Keeneland before losing by a half-length to Alumni Hall at 39-1. He also finished second at Delaware Park in an overnight stake is going a mile.

In the Hal's Hope, On Thin Ice chased the leader for six furlongs, then rallied into the stretch of that 1 1/8-mile race and drew off impressively to finish more than five lengths ahead of runner-up Network with Seek Gold third. In the Donn, On Thin Ice led early but faded badly.

had three victories last year, among them the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup. He also won the Challenger here at Tampa Bay Downs and the Frisk Me Now at Monmouth Park. Tap Day has been training smartly at Payson Park for his return to racing.

Among the others in the field are , who ran out of ground with his late rally when fourth in the Super Stakes and won three stakes last year, and locally based He's Awesome, who came off a long layoff with a sharp victory against allowance-level company last out.