05/19/2005 11:00PM

Can Sabertooth run big again?

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AUBURN, Wash. - The main question confronting handicappers in Sunday's 6 1/2-furlong Fox Sports Net Handicap is whether Sabertooth will bounce, or regress, off his monster effort in the six-furlong Seattle Handicap on April 24.

Sabertooth, the winner of the Grade 3 Longacres Mile in 2002, came into the Seattle Handicap off a layoff of 19 months and figured to tire after chasing the quickest horse on the grounds, Willie the Cat. Instead, he put Willie the Cat away after dueling through a sizzling half-mile in 43.60 seconds, opened a three-length lead with a furlong to run, and held off all comers except for Slewicide Cruise, who scored by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:08.60.

With Slewicide Cruise now sidelined by a strained suspensory ligament, Sabertooth looms very dangerous if he can repeat his Seattle effort in the Fox Sports Net.

He would be extremely hard to beat if he could move forward off that performance. As a 7-year-old who ran his eyeballs out after a long layoff, however, Sabertooth would seem to be a prime candidate to bounce.

Kay Cooper, assistant to trainer Jim Penney, doesn't dispute that horses sometimes do regress after especially big efforts, particularly when they follow long layoffs. She just doesn't think Sabertooth will be a case in point.

"I think it happens when they come back too soon, but Sabertooth will have had 28 days between races," she said. "He worked exceptionally well coming into his last race, and he has worked just as well since then. If he showed any signs of being knocked out, I'd be worried, but he really hasn't. I think he'll be okay."

Though she preferred not to be specific about what prompted Sabertooth's long layoff, Cooper did say that he was injured in a workout at Golden Gate in the fall of 2003. She also said she was always confident he could come back.

"We always had a lot of faith in him, just because he is such an athlete," she said. "We had some false starts, though. We tried to put him back into training a couple of times earlier, but we had to stop when we realized he wasn't quite right. We opted to wait until he was 100 percent, and I think he is 100 percent now. I don't see any reason why he can't get back to where he was before he got hurt.

Turban comes in off long layoff

The Penney barn will field another reclamation project in the Fox Sports Net Handicap in Turban, who was the barn's headliner in 2003 after winning the Fox Sports Net Handicap and the one-mile Budweiser Emerald Handicap in spectacular fashion. He was upset in the 1 1/16-mile Independence Day Handicap and the 1 1/8-mile Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup on July 27, however, and has not raced since.

"He was injured in a five-furlong workout when we tried to bring him back last year," said Cooper, who again declined to be specific about the nature of the injury.

Though he has been out of training for only about a year, Turban has not raced in 21 months. What can be expected of him on Sunday?

"I expect a big race," said Cooper. "He is in very much the same situation that Sabertooth was in for the Seattle Handicap. He has trained equally as well as Sabertooth did, and 6 1/2 furlongs suits him perfectly. He is just awfully good right now, and I'd hate to choose between him and Sabertooth. I hope they both run big."

Back to goggles for Mr. Makaw

The big disappointment in the Seattle Handicap was Mr. Makaw, who blossomed last season with a pair of allowance wins and three stakes placings, including a bang-up third to Adreamisborn in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile. Now a fully mature 5-year-old, Mr. Makaw figured to assert himself in this season's handicap division, but he got off to a shaky start when he finished last of nine, beaten 18 lengths, in the Seattle Handicap.

"He just didn't show up," said trainer Bonnie Jenne. "He had trained well and I was expecting a big effort, but it didn't happen. The only thing I can figure is that he didn't have his goggles on."

Mr. Makaw, a closer who has at times seemed shy of running into flying dirt, got good last year after being fitted with a special hood containing goggles to protect his eyes. His final start of the year came over a sloppy racetrack in the Premiers Handicap at Hastings, however, and Jenne feared that his goggles would become coated with mud, obscuring his vision.

"I decided to go without the goggles, and he ran right through the flying mud and finished a really strong fourth," said Jenne. "After that I figured he didn't need the goggles anymore. Sometimes horses change, and I thought maybe he had changed. Now I think he's probably the same weird bird he has always been, so I'm putting the goggles back on him. I just hope they make a difference."