09/01/2007 12:00AM

'Buck' heads first Cradle on the turf

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CINCINNATI - River Downs has had a turf course since 1956 and the Cradle Stakes since 1977, but the two have never overlapped. Finally, with an opportunity to make a larger impact on the national racing scene, the $200,000 Cradle will be run on the turf for the first time Monday when 11 2-year-olds clash in the track's showcase event.

Because this is the first year the Breeders' Cup will offer the Juvenile Turf, a $1 million race set for Oct. 26 at Monmouth Park, River officials took the enterprising step of shifting surfaces for the Cradle.

"We thought it made a whole lot of sense," said Jack Hanessian, the longtime president and general manager at River. "It fits into the new Breeders' Cup program. We really had no qualms about changing."

Hanessian said he might have liked a major New York or California outfit to send a horse to the Cradle, but even lacking one of those, there seems a sufficient amount of talent to produce a possibility for the BC Juvenile Turf. Old Man Buck and Cherokee Triangle, the respective winner and beaten favorite in the Aug. 11 Cradle prep, are among the likely favorites for the 1 1/16-mile race.

Old Man Buck, with Perry Ouzts aboard, led throughout in winning the prep at 3-1, while Cherokee Triangle, the 1-2 favorite, was bothered at various points by a loose horse, Brave Knight, who had thrown his rider soon after the start. Old Man Buck wound up winning by 5 1/4 lengths while Cherokee Triangle finished third, beaten a neck by Ari N Julius, who also returns Saturday in the Cradle.

"It's like the winner had a lead blocker for him," said Mike Maker, the Louisville, Ky.-based trainer who will make the 90-minute drive Saturday to saddle Cherokee Triangle. "When we went in to avoid him, he went in. When we went out, he went out. I don't know if we'd been good enough to win that day, but hopefully things will shape up different Saturday."

Ouzts, who became the 22nd jockey in North American racing history to win 5,000 races on Aug. 21, retains the mount on Old Man Buck, who will break from post 1. Old Man Buck had been a maiden prior to the Cradle prep.

Ari N Julius, a Johannesburg colt trained by Greg Foley, is a maiden from two starts, but his steady late run in the Cradle prep figures to make him one of the top wagering choices.

For a mid-range longshot, fans might do worse than Robbing the Bank, pegged at 15-1 on the River morning line. Based at Arlington with trainer Becky Maker, the colt owns some of the top Beyer Speed Figures among the field, albeit from dirt sprints. Maker theorized that shifting to a turf route "may let him settle more."

"Every time we've run him short, he's had to pedal the whole way," she said. "I wanted to give him a chance to settle and give a good kick. We're just like everybody else, looking for the right spot."

The Cradle helps to close the River meet as the ninth of 11 Monday races.