07/12/2006 11:00PM

Turf sprints preview of better races


MIAMI - On most any other day during the long Calder summer session, $100,000 races such as the Calder Turf Sprint and Distaff Turf Sprint handicaps would be the highlight of the afternoon. But not Saturday, when those two races plus the $80,000 Birdonthewire and $80,000 Cassidy stakes will support the four graded races on the card while also serving as preps for more lucrative stakes later in the meet.

The five-furlong Calder Turf Sprint and five-furlong Distaff Turf Sprint serve as stepping-stones to the $250,000 Turf Sprint Championship and $250,000 Distaff Turf Sprint Championship on Aug. 5, while the Birdonthewire and Cassidy figure to produce several candidates for the rich Florida Stallion Stakes series, which begins that same day.

A field of 11 grass specialists has been assembled for the Turf Sprint, with California invader Whata Soldier and Kentucky shippers Justice for Auston and Western Kind perhaps vying for favoritism in one of the day's most wide-open events.

Whata Soldier has won 3 of 6 starts since being switched to turf last summer by owner-trainer James Kasparoff and should like the turn back to five furlongs off a series of slightly longer races on the West Coast.

Justice for Auston finished third in the Grade 3 Turf Sprint Handicap at Churchill Downs earlier this spring and has finished first or second in 20 of 29 starts at the distance on grass.

Western Kind has tailed off slightly since winning the Turf Dash at Tampa Bay Downs and missing by a neck in the Yankee Affair Stakes at Gulfstream Park earlier this season.

Gin Rummy Champ, who snapped a long winless streak with a come-from-behind victory in the Heckofaralph Stakes on June 10, is among the leading local contenders, along with Love My Mountain and Dirtymoposse.

The key question in the Distaff Turf Sprint is whether the real Whenthedoveflies will show up. The course record holder and undisputed leader of her division here for the past several seasons, Whenthedoveflies is coming off one of the most disappointing efforts of her career, a third-place finish as the 2-5 favorite in an overnight stakes on June 17. In her previous start, Whenthedoveflies was beaten a neck by Western Kind in Tampa's Turf Dash.

If Whenthedoveflies falters again, the Distaff Turf Sprint will be up for grabs, with the Churchill Downs-based Unbridled Sidney perhaps the most logical alternative. She comes off a win and a third-place finish in her last two starts.

The 5 1/2-furlong Birdonthewire has drawn a very strong field, led by the undefeated Villainage, who overcame a tough trip to capture the B L's Sweep Stakes on June 23. The stretch-running Villainage should again benefit from what figures to be a very honest pace in a field that includes the undefeated Green Vegas, Straight Faced, and Drums of Thunder, along with B L's Sweep runner-up El Bandido Rojo.

Green Vegas is the most exciting member of the lineup. He posted a 91 Beyer Speed Figure winning his debut by four lengths on June 13, while Straight Faced withstood an early speed duel to draw off to an impressive win in his only start.

The 5 1/2-furlong Cassidy is the weakest of the four stakes on the undercard but no less competitive than the others. Dynamite Diva, beaten a neck by recent starter allowance winner Wise Beauty in an entry-level allowance, might be a tepid favorite over the undefeated trio of Banda Victoria, Post Invader, and Yesshecandance. Appealing Runner, who won her maiden at second asking, also figures to garner plenty of backing with jockey Edgar Prado taking the call for trainer Larry Pilotti.