07/29/2007 11:00PM

A.P. Xcellent changes course

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Alex Evers/Horsephotos
A.P. Xcellent, nosed by Lava Man last time out in the Hollywood Gold Cup, will switch to the turf for Wednesday's Cougar II Handicap.

DEL MAR, Calif. - In his last start, A.P. Xcellent came a nose away from upsetting Lava Man in the Hollywood Gold Cup. It was a performance like that would seemingly make A.P. Xcellent one of the top choices for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19 at Del Mar. And yet A.P. Xcellent will return to the races on Wednesday, move to the turf, and stretch out to 1o3/8 miles in the $85,000 Cougar II Handicap, a restricted stakes that kicks off week 3 at Del Mar.

John Shirreffs, who trains A.P. Xcellent, has expressed concerns over racing on synthetic surfaces. And while he politely declined to touch the subject on Monday morning, his actions are speaking louder than words. Speed horses like A.P. Xcellent have, thus far at Del Mar, had a tough time going two turns on Polytrack, whereas they fared better on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track surface.

Only six are entered in the Cougar II, which goes as the second race on an eight-race card.

A.P. Xcellent drew the outside post. He is coming off three sharp efforts on the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park. In three grass starts, his best effort is a second-place finish in a second-level allowance race behind subsequent graded stakes winner On the Acorn.

Asked if running in this race precludes a start in the Pacific Classic, Shirreffs said, "I wouldn't say that."

"This leaves us the opportunity to run in the Pacific Classic," Shirreffs said. "If this works out, it'll be a nice prep."

Toasted, who will be making his first start for trainer Mike Mitchell, should be one of the top contenders in the Cougar II. He recently was purchased privately by owner Bob Bone. He also has been gelded since his last start, a move that has reaped benefits this year for Mitchell with the likes of Big Booster, On the Acorn, and Sun Boat.

Mitchell is also adding blinkers to Toasted.

"They're not real severe blinkers," Mitchell said. "With blinkers, he tends to get aggressive."

Macduff was third in his only start at this distance, in the Golden Gate Fields Breeders' Cup Handicap in May. Bravo Maestro was eighth in that race.

Atlando is being wheeled back after finishing last of five in the Eddie Read Handicap on July 22.