05/02/2012 4:34PM

Churchill Downs: Howe Great in tough spot outside for American Turf

Courtney Stafford
Howe Great, with John Velazquez riding, wins the Palm Beach.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After winning three straight grass races at Gulfstream Park this winter, Howe Great was given a chance to get on the Kentucky Derby trail, but his fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes three weeks ago convinced everyone associated with him that he needed to stay on the turf.

So Howe Great is returning to the grass on Friday in the Grade 2, $200,000 American Turf Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, but even with his outstanding turf form, he has a major challenge ahead of him. Howe Great drew the outside post in a bulky, competitive field of 14, and among his rivals is Silver Max, who comes off a brilliant victory in the Transylvania at Keeneland.

Howe Great is unbeaten on turf. His victories include the Palm Beach on March 12, in which he defeated Dullahan, who subsequently won the Blue Grass.

"I didn't really feel comfortable running him in that race," said Barry Irwin, the president of the Team Valor International syndicate that owns Howe Great, referring to the Blue Grass, "but I kind of took one for the team on that one. I felt we had to run him there so our people could have at least a shot to say that we tried to see if he was a Derby horse.

"But he's a grass horse," Irwin said.

Like Howe Great, Silver Max has excellent turf form, and he also likes the front end. Being as he breaks just inside of Howe Great, both will have to get over before the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile race.

There is surprising depth to this field. Other notable entrants include Bluesskiesnrainbows, third in the Santa Anita Derby; Gung Ho, third in the Blue Grass; Scatman, third in the Rebel; and the unbeaten Flashy Dresser, who has won three races at three tracks.

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