05/01/2007 12:00AM

Turf sprinters close out meeting


Turf sprint specialists Max West and Bingobear head a field of 12 older males in Thursday's $50,000 Tony Gatto Dream Big Stakes, the closing-day feature at Atlantic City's four-day all-grass meeting.

The five-furlong Gatto, named in honor of Atlantic City's former longtime plant superintendent, represents the first start since last fall for both the 7-year-old Max West and the 6-year-old Bingobear.

The only time they met last season, Bingobear finished three-quarters of a length ahead of Max West as the runner-up in the John McSorley at Monmouth Park.

Max West, however, is 2 for 2 over the local course, including a 4 1/4-length win exactly one year ago following a lengthy layoff. He followed up that win by taking the $100,000 Turf Monster Handicap at Philadelphia Park, one of 3 victories in turf sprints he recorded in 8 starts in 2006.

Bingobear failed to fire in his first start off a long rest in 2006, but did win 3 of 7 starts in turf sprints later in the season, including a $60,000 handicap at Laurel Park.

Those looking for a better price should take a long look at 6-1 Southern Missile and 10-1 Tune of the Spirit.

Southern Missile, based in New York, was beaten less than a length by Bingobear the last time he ran on turf. Southern Missile was also second in two five-furlong grass stakes in 2006, the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup at Penn National and the Baltimore Breeders' Cup Turf at Pimlico.

Tune of the Spirit, a six-time winner on grass with earnings of $217,098, has primarily competed in routes throughout his 38-race career. But last May he returned from a layoff to just miss in a high-priced optional claiming turf sprint at Pimlico, and in the summer of 2005 he twice won going five furlongs on grass at Delaware Park.

One other longshot who appears intriguing is Walden Pond, a 15-1 shot who is the only horse in the field besides Max West with a win at Atlantic City. Walden Pond won his maiden locally off a six-month layoff a year ago.