11/05/2009 1:00AM

Big class drop for Song of Navarone

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Song of Navarone has returned to New Mexico after spending the last several months racing against top-class competition in Southern California. Based on the company he has been facing, he should start as a strong favorite Saturday in the $60,000 Veteran at Zia Park.

To be run at 1 1/16 miles, the race is the local prep for the $200,000 Distance Championship on Dec. 6.

Song of Navarone won the Distance Championship last year before embarking on his 2009 season. He traveled to Texas in May and finished third in the Grade 3, $400,000 Lone Star Park Handicap. From there, he headed to California and picked up checks in two of the four graded races he ran in between June and September.

"We went to California to see if he could handle that synthetic surface," said Henry Dominguez, who trains Song of Navarone. "Apparently, the competition was a lot tougher. And I don't know that he handled that surface as well he does the dirt, so we brought him back to his familiar surroundings."

Song of Navarone was fourth by a length in the Grade 2 Californian at Hollywood Park in June and proceeded to run 11th in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup in July and third in the Grade 2 San Diego in August. In his final start out West, Song of Navarone was sixth in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic won by Richard's Kid, who is to run Saturday in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

The Gold Cup and Pacific Classic were at 1 1/4 miles, which Dominguez thinks might be a little far for Song of Navarone.

"I don't know if he wanted to really go a mile and a quarter against those horses," Dominguez said. "At a mile and an eighth, he was right up there, got real close to them. The other eighth of a mile got to him."

Dominguez will add blinkers to Song of Navarone's equipment Saturday. Song of Navarone owns the field's best last-race Beyer Figure, a 101, and draws a post that might lend itself to a nice stalking trip. Song of Navarone will break from post 5 in a field of five, with Antonio Castanon to ride for owner George Coleman.

Others in the field include Black Hills, a winner of 5 of his last 6 starts, and Orientate Express, a stakes winner on dirt who invades off a turf stakes win at Remington Park. Trainer Kelly Von Hemel has given the mount to Glen Murphy.