11/13/2003 12:00AM

Victory worth more than money to Plesa


MIAMI - Defending champion Best of the Rest is the horse to beat in Saturday's $200,000 Carl G. Rose Classic. The race gained meaning for Best of the Rest's trainer, Eddie Plesa Jr., when Best of the Rest's owner-breeder, Bernie Oxenberg, died just two weeks ago.

The Carl G. Rose highlights Calder's second annual Florida Million Day, a program for Florida-breds that also includes the much-anticipated match between unbeaten 2-year-olds Sir Oscar and Wynn Dot Comma in the $150,000 Jack Price Juvenile, and the quest of jockey Jerry Bailey to establish single-season stakes and earnings records.

In addition to the Carl Rose and Jack Price Juvenile, the card also includes the $200,000 Elmer Heubeck Handicap for fillies and mares, the $150,000 Joe O'Farrell Juvenile Fillies, the $150,000 Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap, and the $150,000 Bonnie Heath Turf Cup.

Oxenberg owned and bred Best of the Rest along with his wife, Bea. The couple had not missed any of Best of the Rest's 30 previous starts.

"Bea won't be here Saturday, and it's going to be strange not having them there," Plesa said. "The race means a lot more to me now. It's going to be very emotional, and it's important to me to carry on the Best of the Rest legacy that Bernie left behind."

Best of the Rest, whose career has been interrupted on numerous occasions by injuries, registered the richest victory of his career in January, when he captured the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park. He was sidelined for six months after winning the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap and in his return finished second behind Tour of the Cat in the Grade 3 Spend a Buck Handicap here last month.

"The time off before his last race was a major concern, and it was very understandable he was a little short down the stretch after chasing a false pace," said Plesa. "There will be no excuses from a fitness standpoint this time."

Eibar Coa will be reunited with Best of the Rest, who carries high weight of 121 pounds.

Tour of the Cat is one of only four others entered in the 1 1/8-mile Carl G. Rose Classic. The others are Dancing Guy, The Judge Sez Who, and Longford Arms.

Tour of the Cat is the defending champ in the Jack Dudley Sprint but won going a route of ground in his last two starts, including the Spend a Buck.

The Judge Sez Who finished second behind Best of the Rest in the 2002 Carl Rose, but is returning from a seven-month layoff Saturday with just two published works.