06/30/2005 12:00AM

Cherokee Spook off bench


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The retirement of leading handicap runner Eddington rippled all the way to Monmouth's $70,000 Skip Away Stakes on Saturday.

Trainer Mark Hennig had pointed Eddington for the Grade 1, $500,000 at Belmont Park on Saturday, but when Eddington suffered a career-ending injury, Hennig replaced him with Tap Day, who had been targeted for the Skip Away. Tap Day would have been formidable in the Skip Away following a career-best romp in Monmouth's Frisk Me Now Stakes.

With Tap Day going to the Suburban, Hennig entered Cherokee Spook in the Skip Away. A 4-year-old colt, Cherokee Spook rolled to allowance victories in his last two starts, at Aqueduct and Belmont Park.

"Now that he's won his three-other-than allowance, he needs to move up to this kind of level," said Rob Rader, Hennig's assistant trainer at Monmouth. "We'll see if he fits there."

The Skip Away came up surprisingly tough with the addition of Aggadan as a supplemental entry. A 6-year-old veteran stakes runner, Aggadan will ship in from Aqueduct for trainer Juan Rodriguez, who is handling the New York division of Richard Dutrow Jr.'s stable while he serves a suspension.

In his last start, Aggadan was bumped after the start of the Grade 2 True North Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont on June 11 and never got into the hunt. He ran well over the winter in two-turn races in New York, finishing second in the Grade 3 Aqueduct Handicap and the Stymie Handicap.

Ranger Chance, in contrast, has had limited stakes experience. A 5-year-old, he won an allowance earlier in the meet at the Skip Away distance for trainer Amy Tarrant.

"He's always in the money for me," Tarrant said. "Why not put him in it? He's doing fine and he's strong. Now is the time to let him campaign."

Ricardo A, Cherokee's Boy, Runaway Russy, and Pass Rush complete the field.

Rain good news for Better Talk Now

Monmouth Park was hit with more than two inches of rain in a two-hour period Thursday morning, flooding parts of the backstretch and the parking lots and forcing the cancellation of turf racing Thursday and Friday. The course should be back in action Saturday for the 1 3/8-mile Grade 1 .

"We will be running the U.N. on the turf," said racing secretary Mike Dempsey.

The rain was welcome news for trainer Graham Motion, who said he was worried about the possibility of very firm footing for Better Talk Now in the U.N.

"There is no doubt it helps him," Motion said of the softened turf.

Both of Better Talk Now's Grade 1 wins last season - the Breeders' Cup Turf at Lone Star Park and the Sword Dancer at Saratoga - came on yielding courses.

Spruce Run enjoys local course

Spruce Run is the only Monmouth-based runner in the U.N., and trainer Linda Rice said she hopes the familiarity gives him an advantage.

A 7-year-old gelding, Spruce Run has seven career wins, four of them at Monmouth.

"Spruce Run has had a lot of success on this turf course," Rice said. "We discussed it and decided to give him a chance."

Spruce Run most recently set the pace in Monmouth's Grade 3 Red Bank Handicap at one mile and held gamely until the final jumps, when American Freedom got up by a neck.

The 1 3/8-mile distance could be an issue for Spruce Run, who has not ventured beyond 1 1/16 miles since March 2003, a span of 20 races.

"I don't think it's a distance he necessarily prefers, but he likes the course, is familiar with it, and handles the tight turns, so we wanted to give him a chance," Rice said.

The field

United Nations
Purse: $750,000; 1 3/8 miles, turf; Grade 1

1Better Talk NowR. Dominguez1183-1
2Gunning ForJ. Ferrer11830-1
3Cool ConductorC. Velasquez1206-1
4Request for ParoleJ. Bravo1188-1
5License to RunP. Valenzuela1205-1
6SilverfootR. Albarado1184-1
7ExteriorJ. Santos1187-2
8Shake the BankT. Turner11850-1
9Navesink RiverC. DeCarlo1208-1
10Spruce RunC. Lopez11850-1

* Odds by Art Gropper
* Television: Saturday, 4-6 p.m. Eastern, ESPN