01/13/2010 12:00AM

Arson Squad to begin his year in soft spot

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Arson Squad, who has made only two starts since finishing fourth as the 2-1 favorite in the 2009 Donn Handicap, is about ready to return to action on the local front. There will be no chance for redemption, though, in this year's edition of the Grade 1 Donn.

Arson Squad has not missed a beat in the morning since arriving in south Florida a little over a month ago. His most recent drill came here Wednesday morning when he worked six furlongs from the gate in 1:13.65, according to Daily Racing Form.

Arson Squad, now 7, was beaten more than five lengths by Albertus Maximus after lagging near the rear of the pack during the early stages of last year's Donn. The performance was good enough to merit a trip to Dubai for the World Cup two months later, when Arson Squad, a son of Brahms, was never a factor, finishing a well beaten 11th. Following a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on June 13 at Churchill Downs, Arson Squad went to the sidelines for the remainder of the campaign.

"I though he ran big in his one race at Churchill after he returned from Dubai," trainer Rick Dutrow said later Wednesday morning. "I never saw any real issues with him after the long trip and I was very happy with his effort in Kentucky. He's doing well, but I haven't really picked anything specific out for his return, although it won't be in the Donn. I'd like to bring him back in a money allowance, or if that doesn't go try to find the easiest thing I can for his first start. He's getting a little older now, so we'll just try to pick our spots this year and see how far he takes us.

Dutrow has picked out a pretty good spot for the return of the Grade 1-placed Backseat Rhythm: Saturday's Marshua's River Stakes on the turf. Backseat Rhythm will be making his first start for Dutrow after splitting her time last season between the barns of trainers Patrick Reynolds and Kiaran McLaughlin.

"I've had her about three and one-half, maybe four months," said Dutrow. "I only picked her up after she had come back from the farm, and she's been doing really, really good. I don't know if she was training like this when Kiaran had her, but the way she's been training lately, it sure seems like she's going to run big on Saturday."

Bribon's presence missed

There's a big hole to fill in Barn 9 here this winter. That's where trainer Bobby Ribaudo resides, and that hole is the stall that would have belonged to the multiple Grade 1 winner Bribon who was sold privately and turned over to trainer Todd Pletcher late last year.

Bribon, winner of the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap last spring, has been the cornerstone of the Ribaudo barn the past several years, along with turf star Grand Couturier, who is back again this winter.

"It was really a shame to lose Bribon, I didn't plan on someone making an offer on a 7-year-old gelding, but for the owner's sake I understand why he had to make the deal. At some point you have to take something off the table. I've got nine horses here this winter, but with Bribon out of the picture I feel like a big part of the stable is gone."

Ribaudo is hoping Grand Couturier can pick up the slack. Grand Couturier, a three-time Grade 1 winner, has wintered but never raced at Gulfstream, although according to Ribaudo, that will change this year.

"Over the past several winters I've always been more concerned with getting him right for the Sword Dancer, which he won twice," said Ribaudo. "And maybe I paid a little too much attention to that. This year we won't be so picky or choosy with him, and whatever comes up, if he's doing good, we'll look at."

Ribaudo has yet to work Grand Couturier locally but said he is about ready to set him down a little more seriously in the morning.

"I gave him a little break after the Red Smith, but he's doing well," said Ribaudo. "He open-galloped a half-mile in about 55 the other morning. A lot of times he doesn't do much more than that, but I'm about ready to work him soon."

Stakes draw packed gates

A full field of 14 3-year-olds plus one also eligible was drawn for Saturday's $100,000 Dania Beach Stakes. Ascot winner Strike the Tiger and the Calder based Bim Bam, a two-time stakes winner at 2, are among the leading contenders.

The $100,000 Marshua's River for older fillies and mares on the grass also drew a field of 14, including Backseat Rhythm. The well matched lineup is dominated by stakes winners such as Belle Allure, Bluegrass Princess, Lady Shakespeare, Quiet Harbor, and West Ocean.

* Jockey Eddie Castro won both ends of a $549.60 early daily double here Wednesday, bringing home longshots Grand Bailout ($27.20) in the opener and Bright Array ($45.80) to win her grass debut in the second race. Castro had ridden only one previous winner during the first six days of the meet.