12/23/2003 12:00AM

'Crowned' to show turf talent

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NEW ORLEANS - If racing fans outside Louisiana and Texas know the name Crowned King, it's probably because he finished third to Ten Most Wanted and Soto in the Grade 1 Super Derby. But Crowned King has another talent - turf racing - and Sunday he will get a chance to display it when he runs in the $75,000 Woodchopper Handicap.

Crowned King's defeat in the Super Derby might have been his best performance, but his biggest victory came May 26 in the $200,000 USA Stakes, a grass race at Lone Star. Crowned King has won 2 of 3 on turf and tuned up for the Woodchopper here Dec. 5, running late to finish sixth against older horses in the Tenacious Handicap.

"I wanted to get a race into him, but every prep I wanted to run in, he was written out of," said trainer Billy McKeever. "He's tight now. I believe he's as good as he was going into the Super Derby."

Crowned King will have to be if he's going to beat 13 opponents in the Woodchopper, run at about 1 1/16 miles. The race has many promising grass horses and excellent wagering options.

If there is a good case for Crowned King, others have equally strong positions. G.W.'s Skippie didn't just prep in the Tenacious - he won it. G.W.'s Skippie raced close to a hot pace and had plenty left for the finish of that dirt race, scoring at odds of 45-1.

"He hasn't changed any since the last race; he's just as sharp now," said trainer Andy Leggio.

Leggio believes his horse can transfer his form to turf, but G.W.'s Skippie has to prove not only that he can run as well on grass, but that he can run as well again on any surface.

If Leggio's assessment is accurate, and G.W.'s Skippie jumps quickly into the race again, G.W.'s Skippie will track the pace of Waupaca, who is almost certain to make the lead from post 1. Gin and Sin seems likely to come out running, since he has speed and breaks from post 14, and the early fractions should be honest. Crowned King ought to be placed in the second flight, close to horses like Stone Cat and Certifiably Crazy, both tested in graded stakes competition. Stone Cat represents one-third of trainer Malcolm Pierce's Fair Grounds stable. The last time he raced, he finished fourth to the top 3-year-old grass horse Stroll in the Grade 2 Jamaica.

It may be foolish to overlook the local pair of Grendel and Herculated, both of whom have won over the tricky Fair Grounds turf course.