08/31/2008 11:00PM

Always First always live in Cape Henlopen


Trainer Tom Voss has to carefully pick his spots with Always First, a 7-year-old gelding who has made just eight starts since August 2005, the same year he won a Grade 2 stakes in Southern California. One race that Voss seems to target specifically is the Cape Henlopen, a 1o1/2-mile turf marathon at Delaware Park.

Always First, making his first start since winning this race a year ago, will seek to win the Cape Henlopen for the third straight time in Wednesday's feature, the fifth race on an abbreviated seven-race card.

The long layoff shouldn't bother Always First, winner of the Grade 2 Sunset Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park three years ago. He was making his first start in 244 days when he won the 2006 Cape Henlopen and was coming off 203 days on the sidelines when he ran second, earning a 103 Beyer Figure, in the Gradeo3 Elkhorn at Keeneland last year.

Considering it's an overnight stakes with a modest $55,000 purse, the Cape Henlopen attracted an eclectic group, including the 5-year-old mare Herboriste, who takes a substantial class drop after racing in Grade 2 and Grade 3 stakes company in her last six starts; Ra Der Dean, a former turf sprint specialist who prompted the pace in the Grade 1 United Nations two starts ago; and Touch My Soul, a Group 3 winner in Germany who ran second against Grade 3 company in her North American debut.

Trainer Michael Matz is taking a shot against males with Herboriste, who should have no problem handling the marathon distance after finishing second in the 1 3/8-mile, Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay with a 97 Beyer and second in the 1 3/8-mile, Grade 3 Robert Dick Memorial.

Ra Der Dean is an 8-year-old gelding who made all but one of the first 44 starts of his 56-race career in sprints, mostly at five furlongs on turf. He has been stretching out lately, however, setting the pace in the Grade 2 Dixie at Pimlico in May and running within a length of the early leader in the United Nations two starts ago. Touch My Soul merits respect coming from the barn of Graham Motion, who shows a record of 13 for 56 (23 percent) and a $2.98 return on investment with horses returning from 31- to 60-day layoffs going 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/2 miles on turf, according to DRF's Formulator.