12/16/2010 4:49PM

Black Belt looks sharp for Pelican prep

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OLDSMAR, Fla. – Seven accomplished sprinters will audition for a possible start in the Jan. 8 Pelican Stakes when they go postward in a $24,500 allowance sprint over six furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday.

The Pelican prep is an intriguing race with runners entered off last starts ranging from Laurel Park in Maryland to Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. But the horse to beat has local ties as Gerald Bennett sends out Black Belt, a versatile and speedy West Virginia-bred who will be seeking his fifth win from 15 starts in 2010.

Black Belt was given a short breather after finishing third in the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders Classic in October. Bennett said Black Belt seemed as eager as ever in his last half-mile drill in 48.60 seconds on Tuesday.

“He worked great that morning with Luis Gonzalez on him then, just as the work was over, a horse came by him and Luis said it was all he could do to keep him from taking off,” Bennett said. “He wanted to go after the other horse and get by him.

“He’s doing well, and we hope he shows us he’s ready for the Pelican with his effort on Saturday.”

Black Belt has knocked out $177,000 this season, with three of his four wins coming against statebreds at Charles Town. He has a win and two seconds from six lifetime starts over the Tampa strip.

Dale Bennett, Gerald’s son who has had a strong presence at Tampa the past several seasons, will start Conchacer, who races well off a layoff and has shown a fondness for the Tampa surface. Last season, Conchacer came into the Pelican having been off since the previous October and turned in a sparkling effort in defeat, chasing the leaders, making a bid in the stretch, and then coming back on again late before losing a tough neck decision. While winless in four outings in 2010, Conchacer has scored two of his three wins lifetime here.

Southern Rainbow, a proven veteran with 12 career wins, will be making just his fourth start this season and second since July. Trained by Charlie Assimakopoulos, Southern Rainbow has a solid half-mile drill for his local debut.

An intriguing entrant is Cool Kahuna, who comes to Tampa from Western Canada where he won his last two at Lethbridge. Cool Kahuna won the Canadian Juvenile last season at 2 and is one of several in here with a strong turn of early speed.