03/29/2007 11:00PM

Ashkal Way makes season debut in soft spot


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Rival trainers might be hoping it's an April Fool's joke, but the unvarnished truth is that Ashkal Way, a graded-caliber turf miler who has won 6 of 7 starts in the United States, has surfaced to make his seasonal debut Sunday at Gulfstream Park in the $75,000 Lure Stakes, a race that figures as a mere warmup to bigger and better things for the Godolphin star.

Ashkal Way figured as one of the top hopefuls for the Breeders' Cup Mile as 2006 unfolded when he captured back-to-back Grade 2 races in New York, the Bernard Baruch and Kelso Breeders' Cup handicaps. But Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford announced in early October, shortly after Ashkal Way won the Kelso, that the gelding would bypass the BC Mile, and trainer Saeed bin Suroor then shifted his attention to the Citation Mile at Hollywood Park in late November.

Part of a highly competitive field of 12 in the Grade 1 Citation, Ashkal Way rallied from mid-pack to win yet again, earning a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 108 and stamping himself as a major contender for virtually any middle-distance turf race upon his return.

That comeback has arrived. Eight older horses have been entered for the 1 1/16-mile Lure, with Ashkal Way assigned the outside post.

Now 5, Ashkal Way has been working quietly but effectively at the Payson Park training center some 90 minutes north of here, with a five-furlong breeze on March 21 being the most recent of his five reported workouts dating back to Feb. 26.

Jose Velez Jr. will ride Ashkal Way, an Irish-bred who will carry 121 pounds under the allowance conditions governing the Lure.

If Ashkal Way is to somehow stub his toe, then the Lure could go almost any which way. Trainer Marty Wolfson will run a capable duo, Mending Fences and Electric Light, who both are steady 5-year-olds with tactical speed.

Mark Hennig will send forth Giant Wrecker, winner of the Grade 3 Canadian Turf Handicap here in early February, and Bill Mott has a dangerous stretch-runner in Classic Campaign, winner of the Fort Lauderdale Handicap in early January.

The Lure is carded as the sixth of 10 races on a Sunday card that also sports the $75,000 Magna Distaff as a co-feature. The Magna Distaff, for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf, goes as the eighth.