05/06/2008 11:00PM

Casino Drive bred to shine


ELMONT, N.Y. - His family ties to the Belmont Stakes are the main reason Casino Drive has been shipped from Japan to New York. Whether Casino Drive proves to be as talented as his half-brother Jazil, the 2006 Belmont winner, and half-sister Rags to Riches, the 2007 Belmont winner, remains to be seen.

Whatever talent Casino Drive has will be on display Saturday at Belmont Park when the Kentucky-bred son of Mineshaft out of the dam Better Than Honour runs in the Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes, the local prep for the Belmont. Casino Drive is one of three Japanese-based horses sent to the U.S. by owner Hidetoshi Yamamoto. Spark Candle, a half-brother to the Grade 2 winner Harlington, and Champagne Squall, an Irish-bred son of Daylami, are the others. Spark Candle is also pointing to the Peter Pan, while Champagne Squall is likely to run in a turf maiden race next week.

On Wednesday, Casino Drive worked a sharp five furlongs over the main track in company with his stablemates. Starting about seven lengths behind the pair, Casino Drive rallied up the duo's inside while completing five furlongs in 59.94 seconds. Spark Candle was timed in 1:01.94, while Champagne Squall's clocking was 1:01.11.

"They did well," said Nobutaka Tada, managing director for Yamamoto. "We knew Casino Drive would do well; the other two did well, too. We are pleased with the three of them.''

The Belmont Stakes has been Casino Drive's target since he won his debut in Japan on Feb.o23 by 11 1/2 lengths. Yamamoto is the CEO of Tokyo's Fields Corp., which develops, designs, and manufactures video games and slot machines.

"The owner is a big sportsman,'' Tada said. "He could run in big races in Japan, but he's bringing him here for the fans in America to attract many people to the races.''

Casino Drive was sent off at 1-5 in his debut, which was run at about 1 1/8 miles. He ran the distance in 1:54.40, easily beating 12 rivals.

"He did it very easily, and others [in the race] won after that,'' Tada said. "I think it was a very competitive maiden. He just cruised. We don't know how good he is.''

Tada said Casino Drive will probably need the Peter Pan to have him ready for the Belmont.

"We would like to see him after the race come back safe to the barn, healthy,'' Tada said. "We wish he could win, but more importantly he's safe and he's ready for the Belmont.''

Spark Candle, who is out of the champion mare Serena's Song and thus is a half-brother to Harlington, raced four times as a 2-year-old, winning once on turf. In his only dirt race, he was beaten nearly 19 lengths.

"He didn't like to run that day,'' Tada said. "I don't think it's just because of the surface.''

Tada said Spark Candle, who has not raced since last December, was a "bit nervous'' when he arrived in New York, but he has settled down now.

Kent Desormeaux, who won the Kentucky Derby aboard Big Brown, will ride Casino Drive in the Peter Pan. Jorge Chavez will ride Spark Candle.

Precious Kitten in from Kentucky

The multiple Grade 1-winning turf mare Precious Kitten arrived here from Kentucky with about three dozen other Bobby Frankel-trained horses. On Wednesday, Precious Kitten worked four furlongs in 51.46 seconds over Belmont's main track.

Frankel said Precious Kitten would be nominated to the Grade 1 Just a Game Stakes here on Belmont Stakes Day, but added she is a candidate for the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park on May 26.

"I had her at Keeneland and I brought her here,'' Frankel said. "She's doing really well.''

Frankel also has Ventura and Costume for those same races. Ventura finished third in Saturday's Distaff Turf Mile, while Costume is in Southern California, where she won the Buena Vista and Santa Ana, both Grade 2 events.

Frankel said that Ginger Punch, the defending champion older mare who won the Grade 2 Louisville Handicap last Friday at Churchill, will make her next start in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps here on June 14.

First Defence, who won a classified allowance race on Derby Day, is being pointed to the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on Mayo26.

One horse that didn't make the trip from Kentucky is Country Star, the Grade 1 winner who finished sixth in the Kentucky Oaks. Frankel was awaiting the results of a nuclear scan taken on the filly at the Hagyard, Davidson, McGee clinic in Kentucky.

"She was trying to get out,'' Frankel said. "I can't find anything wrong with her. Something's got to be bugging her, that's the second race in a row she was trying to get out.''

A competitive Bold Ruler coming up

Executive Fleet, runner-up to Bustin Stones in the Grade 1 Carter, heads a competitive group of 10 being considered for Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Bold Ruler Handicap at six furlongs.

Executive Fleet, trained by Linda Rice, has earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last three starts, including a 108 when beaten one-half length by Bustin Stones in the Carter. He is 2 for 3 at Belmont.

Others under consideration for the Bold Ruler are Council Member, Forefathers, Lucky Island, Man of Danger, Callmetony, Rondo, Ravalo, Gold and Roses, and Gold Trippi.

Tagg sweeps two stakes

Trainer Barclay Tagg won three races on Wednesday's card, including both overnight stakes. Flawless Treasure captured the $76,700 Sabin Stakes for fillies and mares on turf, while Groomedforvictory overcame a troubled trip to win the $76,500 Screenland Stakes for 3-year-old New York-breds going 6 1/2 furlongs on dirt.

Javier Castellano rode both stakes winners.

Tagg also won a maiden turf race with Woodrunner, a son of Forestry, and had third-place Dirty Water Dog in the same race. Eibar Coa rode Woodrunner, one of three wins on the card for him.

Groomedforvictory, a gelded son of Victory Gallop, was boxed in for 4 1/2 furlongs of the Screenland. Castellano got Groomedforvictory in the five-path turning for home and he was able to run down Megapixel. Groomedforvictory covered 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.95 and returned $3.40.

Earlier, Flawless Treasure ($5.70) rallied down the center of the course en route to a 3o3/4-length score over Archstone in the Sabin. Flawless Treasure, a 6-year-old daughter of War Chant, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.84 and returned $5.70 as the second choice.