06/30/2010 11:00PM

Cardinal Zin sharp invader


Trainer Robert Gilker has fond memories of his last trip to Northlands Park, in August 2009, when he won the Grade 3 Canadian Derby with Tommy Danzigger. He is hoping for similar success when he ships Cardinal Zin from Hastings to run in the $50,000 Spangled Jimmy on Saturday.

A one-mile stakes for 3-year-olds and up, the Spangled Jimmy attracted six horses and also features the seasonal debut of Cool Ventura, the local 2009 horse of the year.

Cardinal Zin has improved since Gilker took over as his trainer this spring. He missed by a neck to Sir Gallant in a $35,000 optional race May 1 before winning his next two races. He got the better of Sir Gallant in a $35,000 optional race May 21 and then battled every step of the way before edging a game Woombroom Express in a $50,000 optional race June 5.

Cardinal Zin has good speed, but he came from off the pace to win a $50,000 claiming race at Santa Anita last year, and he has also closed well in a couple of races on grass at Hollywood Park.

Gilker said the main reason for Cardinal Zin's improvement is that he is a much happier horse on dirt. He also said he thinks the move to a mile is well within Cardinal Zin's reach.

"I don't think he was very comfortable running on synthetic surfaces," Gilker said. "He's also versatile. If he breaks sharply and wants to run with the inside horse, that's fine. I think he'll run all day that way, but he can also rate."

Pedro Alvarado retains the mount.

The inside horse is Salt Flat Speed, who has won his last three starts and has dominated his opponents in his two races at Northlands this year. Trained by Jim Meyaard, Salt Flat Speed comes off a 2 1/2-length win over Inuit Fisher in the Journal Handicap on June 12. Neither Salt Flat Speed nor Cardinal Zin has won a race longer than 6 1/2 furlongs.

Highland Games, trained by Robertino Diodoro, ran an even race to finish fourth in the Journal and will appreciate the move to a distance over which he has won five times from seven starts. In his previous start, he finished second at 1 3/8 miles on turf in the Wildcat Stakes at Turf Paradise on April 3.

Shem and Footprint round out the strong field.