04/27/2005 11:00PM

Toscani puts five-race streak on line in Ponche


There will be only five starters in Saturday's $75,000 Ponche Handicap at Calder, but picking a winner may still be no easy task in the six-furlong sprint.

The Ponche and the $100,000 Unbridled Stakes for 3-year-olds help fill out the special all-stakes pick four wager that also includes the Hollywood Wildcat and Carterista handicaps.

may ultimately go off the slight favorite and will certainly be the one to catch in the Ponche. The speedy and much-improved Toscani has risen out of the claiming ranks on the strength of a five-race winning streak dating back to last May at Delaware Park. Two of those victories came last winter at Gulfstream Park following a seven-month layoff, both gate-to-wire efforts that were worth Beyer Speed Figures of 103.

Toscani, who is trained by Scott Lake, will share high weight in the compact lineup with Weigelia. Weigelia, to be ridden by Jerry Bailey, is certainly the X-factor in the field, having been placed in new hands since closing out his extremely successful 2004 campaign with a disappointing third-place finish in Calder's Mint Stakes on Dec. 27.

was moved by owner Joseph Balsamo from trainer Manny Azpurua to the barn of his nephew, Eduardo Azpurua Jr., and has done the bulk of his preparation for his return on the farm in Ocala, Fla. Weigelia recently shipped to Gulfstream, where he posted a pair of half-mile works within a three-day span earlier this month, but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to come off a four-month layoff and reproduce the type of form that saw him win the Grade 3 Carry Back Stakes and finish second in the Grade 1 King's Bishop as a 3-year-old in 2004.

While Manny Azpurua no longer has Weigelia, he does send out the consistent Nightmare Affair in the Ponche. The stretch-running Nightmare Affair comes off a 3 3/4-length victory in the Sprint Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and rarely runs a poor race at Calder.

Built Up has seemingly tailed off since winning the Grade 3 Spend a Buck Handicap at Calder in October, although he did sandwich a game allowance victory at Gulfstream between a half-dozen subpar performances since the Spend a Buck. Like Nightmare Affair, he is also a horse for the course, having posted nine of his 15 career wins at Calder.

Paradise Dancer figures to force the early pace of Toscani and has a pair of triple-digit Beyer Figures to his credit over this track.

Favre, beaten a neck by the then-undefeated Mighty Mecke in the Ocala Breeders' Championship Stakes on March 21, is the horse to beat in the 1 1/16-mile Unbridled. Favre may have been best in the OBS Stakes, narrowly missing after hopping tracks left by the starting gate in the run through the stretch.

United, overmatched in the Grade 2 Swale Stakes in his 3-year-old debut, and Global Trader, who comes off a third-place finish behind Sun King in the Grade 3 Tampa Derby, may prove Favre's chief rivals.