04/24/2007 12:00AM

Chatain fresh for Ben Ali


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Bona fide stars such as Louis Quatorze and Mineshaft have won the Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland, but they ran in small fields and over a conventional dirt surface rendered obsolete here. There may not be any superstars in the 77th Ben Ali, which will be run Thursday at Keeneland, but Polytrack has helped to attract a full field of extremely well-matched older horses.

Twelve horses are set for the $150,000 Ben Ali, a Grade 3 race that anchors the penultimate card of the 15-day spring meet as the eighth of nine races. Chatain, most recently fourth behind Invasor in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3, looks like a deserving favorite, although there are another half-dozen or so challengers likely to take strong play, too.

Chatain, like a few others in the 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali, has done his best work on dirt. Meanwhile, several other starters are highly accomplished on turf, and therein lies a major allure of Polytrack. The melding of these disparate preferences has yielded one of the best races of the meet, assuming all or most of the 12 horses stay in the race.

Chatain, trained by Angel Penna Jr., is pointing to the May 28 Met Mile at his home track, Belmont Park. After winning the Jan. 6 Hal's Hope Handicap, then running fourth in the Donn, Chatain was given a short respite by Penna. He said the 4-year-old Forest Wildcat colt came out of the race in great shape, but cautioned that "it's a long year, and I gave him two back-to-back, very tough races."

Chatain (post 4) and Rathor (post 12), an Irish-bred who on opening day of the meet made a successful comeback by downing a tough allowance field on Polytrack, are Ben Ali starters whose best efforts have come on dirt. Conversely, Stream Cat (post 10) and Saint Stephen (post 11) have fared best on turf, setting the stage for an interesting clash in styles.

Stream Cat, a four-time stakes winner, defeated $4.7 million earner Perfect Drift in an April 14 allowance over Polytrack, after which trainer Patrick Biancone immediately set his sights on the Ben Ali despite having just 12 days between races. Saint Stephen, trained by Christophe Clement, invariably earns high Beyer Speed Figures while closing steadily from midpack.

Other Ben Ali contenders who also rate consideration are Eccentric (post 2), winner of the Fayette Stakes here last fall at 8-1 for veteran trainer Roger Attfield; Minister's Joy (post 6), a Shug McGaughey-trained turf pro who was second in an allowance race earlier in the meet and now adds John Velazquez; Mustanfar (posto8), another turfer with a strong late kick; and Jade's Revenge (post 9), winner of the Tejano Run Stakes over the Turfway Park Polytrack in his last start.

The Ben Ali, which dates to 1917 at the old Kentucky Association track, was named for the noted 19th century breeder and financier, James Ben Ali Haggin. Louis Quatorze won the Ben Ali in 1997 in the final race of his career, while Mineshaft won in 2003, the same year he was voted Horse of the Year.

Jazil to run in Elkhorn Stakes

Jazil, the 2006 Belmont Stakes winner, is among 13 older horses entered in the closing-day feature at Keeneland, the $200,000 Elkhorn Stakes on Friday. Only 12 can start in the Elkhorn, a Grade 3 race run at 1 1/2 miles on the turf.

From the hedge, the entire lineup is Bee Charmer, Drilling for Oil, Cloudy's Knight, Always First, Hard Deck, Ramazutti, Transduction Gold, Ascertain, Last Answer, Spider Power, Pellegrino, and Jazil. Fri Guy is the lone also-eligible.