05/26/2007 12:00AM

Bullara faces pace pressure


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Trainer Tony Granitz, who in Chief Thief has a legitimate hope to win Monday's $45,000 Awad Stakes, gave voice Saturday morning to a sentiment likely to be regularly expressed this summer at Arlington Park.

"My horse is doing good," Granitz said, "but I was hoping Pletcher wasn't coming."

Well, trainer Todd Pletcher already is here with a string of active horses, but for the one-mile Awad, a prep for Arlington's Mid-America Triple for 3-year-old turfers, he has dipped into his Churchill stock and pulled out Bullara, who figures to be favored.

Though Bullara has plenty of route speed, he also faces several potential pace rivals drawn more favorably than he is in post 12. Yet Bullara might be good enough to overcome the obstacle.

Bullara was struggling to win a maiden race before being switched to turf late last year, but then he found his stride. He beat maidens over the Gulfstream Park turf by three lengths, and on April 19 ran second, beaten less than a length, in the Forerunner at Keeneland.

If Bullara wants to go to the front, however, Granitz has a second horse to hound him. Smart Cart has been on the lead in his four dirt sprints, and figures to use his ample speed from post 1. His stablemate Chief Thief should be positioned in a stalking spot, and may be good enough to take advantage of a favorable trip.

Chief Thief began his career last year in a turf route, and after losing his first three, he won three in a row - two routes on dirt, another on turf - during the Tampa Bay Downs meet. Chief Thief's last two starts have come in dirt sprints, but Granitz said he ran in the Land of Lincoln on April 28 at Hawthorne only because the field was short.

"I think he's shown he's a better horse going long on grass," Granitz said.

But there are 10 others in the Awad, many capable of getting the money. Eighteenthofmarch nipped Tom Archdeacon in a May 4 turf allowance race on the Arlington course, and both are back Monday. Lovango is unproven on turf, but crushed Oaklawn Park allowance rivals in his most recent start. Awesome Hero finished third last winter in the Mardi Gras at Fair Grounds, his only grass start.

* The Jockey Challenge Wager will be offered for the first time on Monday. Bettors must choose one of seven preselected jockeys or the field, an all-other riders option. The winning jockey will be determined by a point system based on the day's parimutuel payoffs. The bet, which has a $2 minimum, will be offered four more times during the meet.