01/22/2009 1:00AM

White Spar set to start season with bang


PHOENIX - Most of the best sprinters on the grounds will knock heads in Saturday's $50,000 G Malleah Handicap at Turf Paradise. The six-furlong event lured a field of 11, and serves as the traditional prep for the meet's marquee event, the $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup Feb. 14.

Ducky Drake is the morning-line favorite at a tepid 3-1, but the horse to beat may be the White Spar. Generally recognized as the top 3-year-old sprinter on the circuit last year, White Spar looks ready to establish himself the best local sprinter of any age.

White Spar had a superb 2008, winning 5 of 8, and concluded last year with a powerful win in the Cactus Wren in the mud here Dec. 20. Trained by Kevin Lewis, White Spar dueled early with stablemate El Mirage in the Cactus Wren, looked beaten when that rival took the lead in midstretch, but rerallied and actually drew away to win by 1 1/4 lengths. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 104. That was against Arizona-breds, but he's beaten open foes before. He's also beaten older horses.

A bullet six-furlong work in 1:10 here Jan. 16 shows he has kept his edge. White Spar breaks from the rail under Daniel Vergara and is 4-1 on the morning line.

Ducky Drake returns from a strong New Mexico campaign that saw him win three in a row at Zia Park before running second in a stakes at Sunland Dec. 12. Owned by Ralph and Aury Todd, the 7-year-old gelding finished second in this race last year. Regular rider Mark Villa comes in to ride Ducky Drake.

Bound to Be MVP has worlds of speed and figures in the thick of it from the start. Trained by Charles Essex, the 6-year-old Bound to Be MVP opened up while setting a sizzling pace in the 5 1/2-furlong Swift Stakes here Jan. 3 but couldn't fend off tough Southern California raider Northern Soldier, finishing second by a half-length. Bound to Be MVP finished 2 1/2 lengths ahead of favored Came to Pass. Miguel Hernandez keeps the call, and the horse opens at 5-1.

El Mirage, a stablemate of White Spar, has won 5 of 10, including winning the Lost in the Fog here in 2007 and the Tempe Handicap here last March. He comes off the second to White Spar in the Cactus Wren, finishing 20 1/2 lengths clear of the third horse, Corporal Tillman, while earning a 100 Beyer.

Ry Eikleberry rides again, and El Mirage opens at 8-1 on the morning line.