04/01/2010 11:00PM

Big sprint test for Warrior's Reward


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Ian Wilkes has always been Warrior's Reward's biggest fan. Despite disappointing results in some big spots, Wilkes is not setting his sights any lower with Warrior's Reward, just shorter.

Convinced Warrior's Reward is not the two-turn horse he once thought, Wilkes is hoping Warrior's Reward can be a serious player in the major seven-furlong or one-turn mile races on the calendar. The first such event is Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct, a seven-furlong race in which Warrior's Reward will meet the multiple-graded-stakes-winning sprinters Munnings and Musket Man.

The Carter is the 10th of 11 races at Aqueduct. It is the anchor leg of an all-stakes pick four that carries a guaranteed pool of $500,000.

Warrior's Reward ran second or third in three two-turn graded stakes races last summer before finishing fifth as the wise-guy pick in at Saratoga. After finishing the year with two losses in sprint races at Keeneland and Churchill, Warrior's Reward got a freshening. He returned with a solid second-level allowance win at Gulfstream over what Wilkes felt was a stakes-caliber field.

"It was strong," Wilkes said of Warrior's Reward's performance and the field. "It was better than expected, and he did it very easy. He's trained well since."

Warrior's Reward is 2 for 2 at seven furlongs on dirt surfaces, including a win over Munnings last May at Churchill. In both of his seven-furlong victories, Warrior's Reward benefited from a hot early pace, which he may get Saturday.

"If there is, there is; if there's not, it doesn't bother me," Wilkes said. "I feel good where I am with this horse, I am not worried. Sometimes you can get caught up whether there's pace or no pace. The bottom line is, if your horse is good enough you can win."

Since losing to Warrior's Reward, Munnings has gone 3 for 6, with all three wins coming in graded stakes at seven furlongs on fast tracks. His three losses have come over sloppy tracks. He came off a four-month layoff to win on Feb. 13.

"I think he's training as well as he ever has," said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Munnings, who breaks from the outside post in the six-horse field. "He seems to be in very good form. It's well documented he's not a terrific breeze horse in the morning, so anytime he shows enthusiasm is encouraging. He's coming up to this the right way."

Musket Man is undefeated in one-turn sprints including a half-length victory in the Super Stakes at Tampa on Feb. 6, his first start in nine months. Though Musket Man finished third in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, trainer Derek Ryan is keeping him short.

"We're going to keep him seven-eighths to a mile for the foreseeable future," Ryan said. "He's got a turn of foot for an eighth of a mile it's like a turbo boost."

Digger, who could play out as the primary speed, is coupled with Driven by Success, who finished third in this race last year and also has speed. Elusive Warning, who caught a speed-favoring inner track when fourth in the Toboggan, completes the field.