06/13/2007 11:00PM

Chelokee, Zanjero head Northern Dancer


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A colt by Cherokee Run will be favored in the Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Stakes, and a colt by Cherokee Run might very well win it.

Whether that is one and the same horse will be decided Saturday at 1o1/16 miles at Churchill Downs, as Chelokee, the likely favorite, squares off against Zanjero and six other 3-year-olds in the sixth running of the Grade 3, $200,000 Northern Dancer.

Chelokee is the "name" horse of the group, having garnered national attention by running third in the Florida Derby, then missing out on the Kentucky Derby after having insufficient graded earnings to make the 20-horse field. Confirming his status as quite possibly one of the top 3-year-olds in training, Chelokee made easy work of the May 19 Barbaro Stakes at Pimlico in his only start over the last 11 weeks.

Trained by Michael Matz, Chelokee arrived Wednesday at Churchill from his base at the Fairhill Training Center in Maryland. Matz was scheduled to arrive here Thursday.

Zanjero, based at Churchill, got to run in the Derby, although it may have been hard to notice, as he finished 12th after having always been back in the pack. Trainer Steve Asmussen, who otherwise made a huge impression in the Triple Crown series this year with Curlin, said he expects the Northern Dancer to be a good race for Zanjero to restart a productive 3-year-old campaign.

"I think it gives him a full chance to get over the Derby," said Asmussen. "I thought there were a lot of options out there, but the reason we chose the Northern Dancer is that he's training here."

Chelokee, owned by Centennial Farms, is by Cherokee Run out of Dixie Ghost, while Zanjero, owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds Inc., is by Cherokee Run out of Checkered Flag. Cherokee Run made his greatest mark as a racehorse by winning the 1994 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill.

Besides Zanjero, one more Northern Dancer runner also will be making his first start since the Derby: Sam P., who was ninth. Unlike many of the other top Todd Pletcher horses, Sam P. remained at Churchill following the Derby instead of shipping to Belmont Park, and the colt has trained steadily in recent weeks, with four post-Derby works culminating in a five-furlong breeze here Sunday in 1:02.20.

The balance of the field is Loose Leaf, Portobello Road, Prom Shoes, True Competitor, and Tsali.

The Northern Dancer is the seventh race, and the second of six graded stakes, on the Saturday card.