03/12/2010 12:00AM

African Diamond rolling on dirt

Email

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - African Diamond was not a happy camper earlier in his career, posting only oneowin in his first seven starts while racing on synthetic tracks and turf.

He has been a different horse since being switched to dirt last summer at Saratoga. African Diamond has won 3 of 5 since then, making the 4-year-old gelding a major contender Sunday in the $43,000 first-level allowance feature at Aqueduct.

African Diamond enters the 1 1/16-mile race off a pair of strong efforts over Aqueduct's inner track in January: a four-length win in a starter allowance followed by a second in a first-level allowance.

He earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 91 in both races, making African Diamond a solid play for followers of the "new top" angle.

It all began with a surface shift.

Trainer Eoin Harty took African Diamond to Saratoga in August, running him for a $35,000 claiming price. The gelding delivered a five-length win, and was claimed by Chad Brown.

When Brown headed to Florida for the winter, he left African Diamond with Bruce Brown (no relation, although their wives are cousins) who saddled the gelding the last two times.

"He's run two big races in a row, so I gave him a little bit of a rest," Bruce Brown said. "He's really been training good, better than ever. If he runs back to his last few races, he should be right there."

African Diamond tuned up with a bullet workout, five furlongs on Tuesday at Belmont Park in 1:00.83.

"I think early on in his career, he got kind of lost between the synthetics and the turf," Brown said. "He never really found his true calling. He loves two turns and he loves the dirt. He just wasn't doing what he really liked to do in the early part of his career."

Anna Napravnik has the return call aboard the gelding, who figures to be on or very close to the pace.

Allrightsreserved, Emma's Posse, and Ricoriatoa were also cross-entered in a first-level race at six furlongs on Saturday at Aqueduct.

Of the horses committed to this race, Obligingly and Tranquil Manner appear to be best positioned to challenge African Diamond.

Obligingly ships up from Florida following a pair of seconds in first-level races at Gulfstream Park for trainer Todd Pletcher. Ramon Dominguez, the Big A's leading rider, has the call.

Tranquil Manner will be looking to improve on three straight runner-up finishes at Aqueduct for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.