12/14/2002 12:00AM

Battle Tank tough in Inaugural

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - While Tampa Bay Downs's opening weekend was a washout, the $50,000 Inaugural Stakes lives on and has been rescheduled for Tuesday.

The six-furlong Inaugural has drawn a bulky field of 14 2-year-olds and should offer good betting value as the entrants are coming off starts at 10 different tracks - from Great Lakes Downs to Saratoga.

Although Battle Tank, a Valid Appeal colt trained by Dennis Ebert, drew the outside post, he could prove tough as he goes for his third win in four career starts. A $40,000 yearling purchase, Battle Tank won his first two career starts at Arlington Park, earning Beyer Speed Figures of 74 and 78. In spite of his perfect record, Battle Tank was sent off at 10-1 in the seven-furlong Gilded Time Stakes at Arlington in his last start. He stalked the early leaders in that race but faded to fourth behind Cat Genius.

Ebert gave Battle Tank a short break following the Gilded Time before he resumed serious training at Classic Mile training center. Battle Tank has worked three times in preparation for the Inaugural. Sebastian Madrid will ride at 122 pounds.

There are several other horses in the field with strong credentials, including Awesome of Course, who led the field into the stretch of the Grade 2 Saratoga Special before fading to fourth. A winner of 2 of 5 starts, including an upset allowance win over a muddy strip at Saratoga, Awesome of Course has been off since Saratoga but has been training well at Sawgrass Training Center. He should be one of several who will vie for the lead here. Jesus Castanon rides at 122 pounds.

Hummel, who led throughout to win the six-furlong Cassidy Stakes at Calder two races back, also figures to dispute the early fractions under Felix Ortiz. Hummel tired last time out in the seven-furlong Joe O'Farrell at Calder but should be more comfortable at this shorter distance.

With a number of runners in the field possessing early speed, a torrid pace duel would set things up for a late-runner like Flip and Stu. In his last start, Flip and Stu closed well at Calder against high-priced claimers while making his first start with Lasix.

With speed horses, late closers, and runners coming from far and wide, Tampa Bay Downs's delayed opening day feature is a wide-open race that has a good chance of resulting in some nice payoffs.