03/17/2008 11:00PM

Three horses likely to battle for lead in tricky Cicada

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - There are just six 3-year-old fillies in Saturday's Cicada Stakes, but position handicappers will find it tough to plot how the rubber match between Dill or No Dill and Carolyn's Cat will unfold.

They took turns beating each other in January, and while the pace scenarios were identical, their roles were reversed: In the Ruthless, Dill or No Dill jumped out to a clear lead and won big, as Carolyn's Cat made a run on the turn and finished evenly. In an overnight stakes 25 days later, it was Carolyn's Cat who grabbed the early lead and drew away, while Dill or No Dill rallied mildly on the turn and flattened out.

Throbbin' Heart joins the fight for round 3. She is another early speed/presser type, with 3 wins from her last 4 starts, including a decision over Dill or No Dill in a slowly-run overnight stakes on Dec. 6.

The tough thing about the match-up is that all three are exceptionally quick from the gate on their best day:

* The two times Carolyn's Cat has broken on top, she has won; she is winless from three other starts.

* Excluding a kamikaze mission setting the pace against Indian Blessing in the one-mile Frizette, Dill or No Dill has been first from the gate twice and has won both times; she has won 1 of 4 starts when not on top at the start call.

* Throbbin' Heart is no slouch out of the blocks, either. She has broken on top four times: a placing to Indian Blessing in their debuts at Saratoga, followed by victories at Monmouth Park, on Aqueduct's inner track, and at Laurel in a minor stakes five weeks ago.

The one thing that seems clear is that passive tactics didn't work, so Dill or No Dill will be gunned this time in much the same way Carolyn's Cat was gunned last time. Dill or No Dill is drawn on the outside, just as she was in the Ruthless. If she expends too much energy trying to take the track from Carolyn's Cat and Throbbin' Heart, she may take those two down with her. That could be bad for Dill or No Dill, but good for her stablemates, the entry of Ready for Fortune and True Intentions.

After three races on synthetic tracks in California, Ready for Fortune was a last-to-first winner of the Dearly Precious Stakes in her first local start. She has continued to train sharply for Gary Contessa (who saddles half the field), and may be sitting on another good effort in a potentially favorable pace situation.

Skip Away Handicap

Pace is also at the forefront of Gulfstream Park's Skip Away Handicap, a race Gottcha Gold led for six furlongs last year before backing up through the stretch.

Gottcha Gold comes off an excusable fade in the Sunshine Millions Classic in which he forced insane fractions of 1:08 and 1:33 from post 12 on Santa Anita's not-much-cushion track. That was his first start since setting the pace and holding for second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (and 70 yards).

These are the two key questions with Gottcha Gold:

* He ran three Beyer Speed Figures of 107/108 at Monmouth last year, but can he run to that level anywhere else?

* How long will Mr. Umphrey be able to stay with him?

Mr. Umphrey is a solid sprinter who was employed as a rabbit for stablemate Diamond Stripes last year in the Stephen Foster and the Meadowlands Cup. He has a similar assignment Saturday to pave the way for Frost Giant.

Back in five days following a hand-ridden win over third-level allowance sprinters, Mr. Umphrey figures to push Gottcha Gold through some enervating fractions. Frost Giant was rank in the early going of his recent allowance win, but that was his first career start on dirt, and he may settle a bit more willingly with that experience under his belt.

A two-time Group 3 winner in Ireland early on, Frost Giant is a lightly raced 5-year-old who has taken a while to acclimate to U.S. racing, but he has a touch of class and looks to be back in top form.