Updated on 09/17/2011 12:08PM

Course condition is key

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Praise the Prince clears a hurdle en route to winning the Smithwick in 2001. He's the most accomplished horse in Thursday's Smithwick, but has won just once since his score two years ago.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The condition of the turf, more than the current form of the participants, may hold the key for the steeplechasers in Thursday's $75,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Stakes at Saratoga.

Persistent rain has left the course in soggy condition, which should help the chances of Trebizond but might hinder Anofferucantrefuse in a race that is treacherous to handicap because of so many questions regarding the leading contenders. The Smithwick, at 2 1/16 miles, is the first race on the card.

Trebizond is an up-and-coming star. He won a pair of restricted jump races at Churchill Downs and Belmont Park earlier this year, then was freshened for this meet, in part because trainer Kathy Neilson hoped to get turf with some give in the ground. She should get her wish, but in the weeks leading up to this race, Trebizond suffered a puncture wound to his right front hoof, then had "a little bit of a cough," Neilson said.

"I planned on saving him for Saratoga," Neilson said at her barn Tuesday morning. "You can get soft turf up here. He's such a better horse on soft ground, because the soles of his feet are soft. He doesn't even train well on hard ground. Some like soft turf, some don't."

Anofferucantrefuse comes off a powerful victory on firm ground in the Ferguson Memorial Handicap at Colonial on July 12. "That's his race, jumping on the lead, and galloping them to death," said his trainer, Tom Voss.

But the wet weather concerned Voss, who said: "It's not like there's 10 or 12 stakes for horses like this. We've got to go for it, but it's an unfortunate thing."

Praise the Prince was the beaten favorite in the Ferguson Memorial, finishing 3 3/4 lengths behind Anofferucantrefuse. He is the most accomplished horse in the race, his victories including the 2001 Smithwick, but he has won just once since then, and he may prefer firmer ground. Still, Neilson believes Praise the Prince, trained by her sister Sanna Hendriks is the horse to beat.

Praise the Prince is part of an entry with Invest West, both owned by George Strawbridge's Augustin Stable. Jonathan Sheppard, who trains Invest West, said, "He'll run on his own merit, but I feel he needs a race." Invest West has not raced since finishing fifth in last year's Smithwick.

Tres Touche was second, splitting Anofferucantrefuse and Praise the Prince, in the Ferguson Memorial. He was second in the Smithwick last year to the ill-fated It's a Giggle.