08/17/2006 12:00AM

Turf sprint has cast of pros


MIAMI - There was a time not too long ago when turf sprinters had a hard time banging out a decent living on the south Florida circuit. Five-furlong grass races were almost unheard-of at Gulfstream Park and rarely carded even across town at Calder until late in the season.

Those times, though, are long gone. Five-furlong turf races in a variety of categories are plentiful throughout the year in this area, and durable grass sprinters have become a valuable commodity among locally based horseman. A case in point is the starting lineup for Saturday's $36,000 main event at Calder, scheduled to be run at five furlongs on the grass under second-level optional claiming conditions.

Five of the nine horses expected to start in the race(Luke's Halo is entered for dirt only) have already earned in excess of $44,000 this season while a sixth, Placido, banked more than $90,000 in 2005 from a steady diet of five-furlong grass races.

Old pro Love My Mountain, who rarely runs in anything but turf sprints these days, is expected to be the slight favorite in the wide-open dash, coming off a fifth-place finish in the Calder Turf Sprint Handicap. Rarely outrun to the lead, Love My Mountain may prove the speed of the speed in a field where the majority of the top contenders are at their best when out winging on the front end. Claimed for $16,000 by trainer Phil Gleaves out of a win on June 16, Love My Mountain has earned $44,548 from eight starts in 2006 and more than $100,000 since January of 2005.

Sami's Magic is the second-highest money earner in the field this year, having banked nearly $53,000 in 12 starts. He was in such demand that he drew nine claims when he was entered for a $16,000 claiming price on Sunday. Trainer Carl Cooper won the shake and wasted little time bringing the versatile speedster back for a $25,000 claiming price on Saturday.

Classy Honoree has already put $53,640 in the coffers of owners William Condren and Michael Sherman in 2006, and while capable over most any surface, he posted his maiden win in a five-furlong turf sprint here on May 21.

Mr. Maestre has never been better. He has yet to finish worse than third in three turf sprint opportunities. A 4-year-old son of Lord Carson, he registered back-to-back Beyer Speed Figures above 90 over the main track here earlier this summer and will get a break in the weights from this field with the switch to red-hot apprentice Jesus Sanchez.

Layton, a troubled fourth under similar conditions two starts back, rebounded to run down a three-horse speed duel en route to upsetting a similar field of second-level optional claiming runners on the main track three weeks earlier.