07/21/2008 12:00AM

Up-and-comers try to reach top rung


DEL MAR, Calif. - Barring a surprise victory by ex-star Lava Man, a good horse will win the first Grade 1 of his career Sunday in a 1 1/8-mile grass race at Del Mar.

The $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap has had higher-quality horses than this year's seven runners. However, the Breeders' Cup is only three months away, on Oct. 24-25 at Santa Anita, and even if the Read field is modest, the implications are huge for Whatsthescript and Monzante.

"He's a legit horse, and I'd like to keep him here [in California] for the Breeders' Cup," trainer John Sadler said of Whatsthescript. "This race will tell us if he's that kind of horse."

Will it? Sadler's point can be debated, because aside from back-class 7-year-old Lava Man, the Read falls short of Grade 1 caliber. Lava Man has lost five straight races, and at least a step or two. Monzante has not won on turf or in a graded stakes; Storm Military has not won graded stakes in the U.S.; Spring House is prepping for the Pacific Classic.

As for Whatsthescript, his 5-for-10 resume includes a sharp Grade 2 comeback victory last out in the American Handicap. Sunday, he tries to piece together a rare extended campaign. Though his career is peppered with layoffs, Sadler said Whatsthescript "is okay; the issues he had were not major."

Isaias Enriquez rides for his father- and mother-in-law, Tom and Debbie Stull.

Whatsthescript blew away the American field with a quick turn of late speed, getting his final three furlongs in under 35 seconds, and if he runs two alike, he can score right back. Though he has never raced on the Del Mar turf, Sadler said he "loved his work" on Monday.

Monzante finished second in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap on June 7, and will try to fill a major void in the stable. Trainer Mike Mitchell said Grade 1 winner Ever a Friend is out for the year with an ankle injury, and will miss the Breeders' Cup Mile. That leaves improving Monzante as a potential replacement.

Monzante finished second by a neck in the Whittingham, a race Mitchell still believes Monzante could have won if he had saved ground into the lane rather than rallying four wide. Rafael Bejarano replaces Joel Rosario.

The closing style of Monzante is ideal for the Del Mar turf, according to Mitchell.

"I think he'll like this turf course more than Hollywood," he said. "You had to be close to the lead [at Hollywood]. Here, it is more favorable to horses coming from out of it."

Monzante has won 3 of 12, and though winless on grass, his most recent start proves he can handle turf. A good effort by Monzante would put him squarely into the Breeder's Cup picture.

"You're thinking Mile turf, or Mile dirt," Mitchell said.

Spring House runs for the first since time finishing 10th in the Dubai Sheema Classic at about 1 1/2 miles in March at Nad al Sheba, and even trainer Julio Canani admits 1 1/8 miles is short.

"He's a mile-and-a-quarter horse, but I have to start him someplace," Canani said.

Spring House won the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo at 1 1/2 miles on grass in February.

Canani will consider an ambitious move for his next start, possibly the Pacific Classic on the main track Aug. 24.

"I'm trying to open the door to something else," Canani said. "We'll contemplate it, and see who's in the race."

Garrett Gomez rides Spring House.

The veteran of the field is Lava Man, who set the pace and finished a creditable third in the Whittingham in his most recent start. Lava Man has won 17 races and more than $5.2 million, and neither trainer Doug O'Neill nor jockey Tyler Baze will be bashful concerning his front-running strategy.

"The game plan is to take it to them, and it is in Tyler's hands from there," O'Neill said. "That's always been his strength, his speed and his stamina. He's training like he's going to give us a big effort on Sunday."

Lava Man's chances depend primarily on the amount of pressure he gets from front-runner Storm Military. In the American Handicap, Storm Military set a fast pace, put away Grade 1 winner Daytona, opened up at the eighth pole, and then was collared by Whatsthescript.

The longshot Global Hunter stretches out from a sprint and could affect the pace, while European import Ferneley makes his U.S. debut. Ferneley won 3 of 15 in Europe, including a Grade 3, and if the Read field is as modest as it appears, the shipper could spring an upset.