04/27/2005 11:00PM

Abuse of Power faces his toughest test

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Trainer Daniel Franko has plenty of confidence in his 3-year-old barn star Abuse of Power, but he has plenty of questions about him, too.

He expects to get some answers Saturday when Abuse of Power meets six rivals in the $58,000-added Gregson Foundation Sprint for 3-year-olds at six furlongs.

"I don't know how good he is," said Franko, who has seen Abuse of Power run off with two easy victories here.

While displayed speed and talent in the two wins, he will be meeting his toughest competition Saturday.

The field includes two multiple stakes winners, . One of Wind Water's stakes victories came over this track in the San Mateo Stakes, and he also ran third in the Malcolm Anderson here last spring in his debut.

Cajun Pepper, shipped here from New Mexico. He is undefeated sprinting in Arizona and New Mexico and won the $100,000 Riley Allison Futurity at Sunland. He has trailed badly at two turns in his last two starts.

Doug Utley will saddle Cajun Pepper on Saturday.

"I just got him Sunday, but I've seen tapes of all his races," said Utley, who has had horses for Cajun Pepper's owner, Harry Veruchi, for many years.

"He's a pretty nice little horse. I don't think he wanted any part of a mile and an eighth. They want to keep him sprinting, and it's tough to find places sprinting."

Abuse of Power's Beyers are not as high as those of many of his rivals, but they are competitive.

"I think he fits, but when you're on the bottom rung of the competitive scale, you hope for good breaks," Franko said.

Franko might well get one break. Recent rain will probably create an off track, which Abuse of Power relishes.

"I'm praying for rain," Franko said at midweek. "This horse loves an off track. It moves him up a notch. When he works on a wet track, he's in his glory."

Franko, who has been training for less than two years after a long career in business, blames himself for Abuse of Power's poor showing in his last start, which came at Santa Anita. He said he still is learning how best to prepare a horse for shipping

"It's a bigger project than most think," he said, noting Abuse of Power didn't adjust well to the new surroundings and stopped eating before the race.

There seems to be plenty of speed in Saturday's race, although most of the speed horses don't necessarily need the lead to win. Post position could play a key role, and Abuse of Power, who seems most likely to need the lead to win, got another break there, drawing the outside.