09/01/2007 12:00AM

Always First proven at 12 furlongs


Fourteen horses are entered and 12 will be permitted to run in the $55,000 Cape Henlopen on the turf Monday at Delaware Park. But there is only one horse proven in stakes at the 1 1/2-mile distance of the race.

Always First, a 9-year-old trained by Thomas Voss, has had nine starts at 1 1/2 miles on turf, with 3 wins, 2 seconds, and 2 thirds and earnings of $385,695.

Only two others in the Henlopen have raced 1 1/2 miles on turf - the 6-year-old gelding Matt Blanc, who ran second in his sole start at the trip, and the Michael Matz-trained Bee Charmer, who has 1 win in 2 attempts. Matt Blanc's second was in a $25,000 optional claiming race, and Bee Charmer's win came in a first-level allowance race. These are tougher.

Always First last ran over his head in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga on Aug. 11. Before that, he won the Stars and Stripes at Arlington in July and ran second in both the Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs in May and the Elkhorn at Keeneland in April - all Grade 3's. And while Always First earned a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure in each of them, no other Henlopen runner has yet to run a single triple-digit Beyer.

Always First won last year's Cape Henlopen at Delaware Park, so he likes the course. And Jose Caraballo, who rode him last year, rides him again Monday.

Matt Blanc appears a distant second best and figures to be aided by his on- or near-the-pace running style. Longshot Dubai Cat will be on the lead or near it much of the way, and could hit the board. Auction Watch is 3 for 4 on grass and has a three-race win streak going, although against lesser.