01/15/2004 12:00AM

You know Gazillion will run well


On the surface, anybody in the field can win the $75,000 What a Summer, a sprint for fillies and mares, on Saturday at Laurel. There are seven entrants and each comes off an excellent race.

Each ran in the money in her last start, six of them finishing a length or less from the winner, and the seventh, Amazing Lady, ending up a clear second, beaten only 2 1/4 lengths.

But while the What a Summer is a toss-up in terms of current form and conditioning, one mare, Gazillion, stands out on class and consistency.

Gazillion is a mare you can count on. She has run first or second in 12 of 15 starts over the last two years, winning eight. She has run first or second in 10 of 12 career starts at Laurel, and first or second in six of seven starts at the What a Summer's six-furlong distance. Only once in 15 career starts did Gazillion finish out of the money.

In money won, a measure of class, only Gazillion and Bronze Abe among the What a Summer runners had six-figure earnings last year.

Gazillion earned more than Bronze Abe last year, and, more importantly, far more per start ($23,000 to $14,000).

On the negative side, Gazillion last raced 35 days ago, and her trainer, Hamilton Smith, isn't reliable with runners returning off 31- to 60-day layoffs. He's lost with 75 of his last 80 such starters, or 94 percent. But Gazillion did win for Smith off a much longer layoff on Oct. 30, in her first start in more than seven months. So this is a mare he knows how to get ready.

As an added bonus, meet-leading jockey Ramon Dominquez will ride.

Bronze Abe, trained by Buddy Delp and ridden by Eddie Rodriguez, comes into the race with a huge edge in recent Beyer Speed Figures. Her last three Beyers - 94, 94, and 104 - tower over the rest of the field's. Gazillion is the only other horse in the race ever to earn a Beyer over 90. She ran a 94 two starts ago in the $75,000 Stefanita at Laurel on Nov. 15.

Actually, Gazillion and Bronze Abe both ran in the Stefanita, finishing a head bob apart at the wire. Bronze Abe raced wide into the stretch, caught Gazillion at the sixteenth pole and stuck her nose in front, then hung in the final yards as Gazillion - in a typical performance - regained the lead.

A year ago, Gazillion ran second in the What a Summer, stalking the winner throughout. The winner that day was Xtra Heat. There aren't any Xtra Heats running Saturday.