06/08/2006 12:00AM

Anew, Tiger get ready for round 2

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ELMONT, N.Y. - It was the next-to-last race on the last day of racing on Aqueduct's inner dirt track, and it was an ordinary optional claimer with second-level allowance conditions. Who could have guessed Anew's half-length victory over Tiger would in retrospect turn out to be the toughest sprint of the winter, and that both would become contenders for Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 True North Handicap?

They came into that optional race off impressive wins in their first start of the year. But had merely won a first-level allowance at Gulfstream Park for Jimmy Jerkens.

Both geldings came out of that race galvanized. Each has risen to new heights at age 5 thanks to patience and persistence. Anew returned during the opening week at Belmont to win a starter handicap with a Beyer Speed Figure of 108; Tiger has since won a second-level allowance and the Bold Ruler Handicap decisively, putting up Beyers of 111 and 110.

Anew, claimed for $35,000 toward the end of a 2-for-14 campaign in 2005, has won three straight by a combined 17 lengths since being gelded.

"That's obviously changed him in more ways than one, and Toby has done a great job with him," said Asmussen, referring to assistant trainer Toby Sheets. "That wasn't Tiger's best race, but our horse has been better since as well."

Tiger has always had talent, but was limited to just two starts at 3 and two more at 4 due to tendon problems stemming from a severe case of EPM, an infection of the central nervous system.

"I didn't know if he'd make it back," said Jerkens. "He had the EPM so bad I didn't know if he'd ever get over it. He responded to the treatment, went down to Florida, and started training real good."

Tiger is coupled with Voodoo, the runner-up finisher in last year's True North, who makes his first start since a neck loss in the Fall Highweight Handicap last November.

"He usually runs well fresh," said Jerkens.

Also in the six-furlong True North are Vicarage, , Celtic Innis, Uncle Camie, and Spanish Chestnut.

Spanish Chestnut set a supersonic early pace in last year's Kentucky Derby, and has been made over into a sprinter.

"He had a little problem after the Kentucky Derby and we gave him time to get over it," said his trainer, Patrick Biancone. "Our long-range goal is the Breeders' Cup Sprint."