01/10/2003 12:00AM

Who's the closer in speedfest?


ARCADIA, Calif. - Speed meets speed Sunday at Santa Anita, where 3-year-old sprinters gun six furlongs in the Grade 3 San Miguel Stakes. It's a hot race in which handicappers might anticipate a pace meltdown and support a stretch runner. There's just one question - is there a genuine closer in the six-horse field?

Omega Code and Only the Best have persuasive credentials in the $100,000 San Miguel. Other entrants are Bossanova, bias-aided winner of a fast maiden race; Echeverria, 2 for 5 in Kentucky and filling in for sick stablemate Rojo Toro; consistent Red Apache; and Jimmy O, who benefited from a rally-wide bias winning an allowance two races ago and was runner-up at Turf Paradise last out.

The advantage may belong to 2 for 4 Omega Code, who enters without any excuses. "This is the first time I've run him the right way, with no problems," trainer Wesley Ward said.

Despite compromising conditions, Omega Code has earned $95,310. He finished second in his debut while fighting tender shins, broke a track record at Fairplex Park off an abbreviated workout pattern, and romped by seven lengths in a Fresno stakes without a work between starts. The enterprising campaign caught up to him Oct. 25, when he finished a distant third in an Arlington stakes.

All systems are go Sunday. "He's training out of his mind; I think he'll run a bomber," Ward said. The 94 Beyer Speed Figure earned by Omega Code at Fresno compares favorably with his rivals' figures, and the colt has shown he can run from behind. Though stuck on the rail (1 for 27 at six furlongs), Omega Code could fall into a good trip behind speed demons Bossanova and Only the Best.

Only the Best set fractions of 21.16 and 43.84 seconds in a daylight win Oct. 19 at Santa Anita. It was the second stakes for the California-bred, whose most recent start was an off-the-board finish in a seven-furlong stakes in Texas. Only the Best is more effective at the San Miguel distance of six furlongs. Trained by Brian Lynch, he has won three races and $140,764 from six starts. To win Sunday, he must separate himself from one of the fastest 3-year-old sprinters in California.

Bossanova rode an inside-speed bias Dec. 22 to beat maidens by four lengths. While his performance - he set fractions of 21.56 and 43.55 - surely was flattered by the conditions, it might be a mistake to discount him entirely. "He's improved since his last race. He's really growing into himself," trainer Chris Paasch said. "I've seen a smarter, more mature colt since his last race."

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