10/13/2005 12:00AM

Cryptograph faces Niigon in Durham


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Cryptograph and Niigon should both be tough going 1 1/8 miles in the $160,650 Durham Cup Handicap on Saturday at Woodbine.

Cryptograph, a much-traveled 4-year-old owned by Pin Oak Stable, placed in two Grade 3 stakes in 2004, the Lone Star and Oklahoma derbies. He is winless in four starts this year, losing his season opener, in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap, by a nose.

Cryptograph was transferred from trainer Donnie Von Hemel to Malcolm Pierce just before his local debut, a 1 1/16-mile allowance Aug. 26. After getting away a little slowly that day, he rallied strongly to finish just a neck behind Sky Diamond in second.

Pierce said he was pleased with Cryptograph's Woodbine debut.

"I only had him a week before I ran him, and I hadn't had much of a chance to get to know him," Pierce said. "We got a race into him, and it worked out well. It looks like the farther the better for him - a mile and an eighth should suit him perfectly."

Pierce said Cryptograph has trained encouragingly in recent weeks.

"He's had a bullet [five-furlong] work each of the last two Saturdays," Pierce said. "He couldn't be working any better."

Niigon, trained by Eric Coatrieux, has run hot and cold over both surfaces this year. Niigon often shows speed, but he came from off the pace in his two wins at the meeting, the most recent of which was a daylight tally in the allowance prep for the Durham Cup.

Robert Landry, who rode Niigon to victory in the 2004 Queen's Plate, believes the son of Unbridled is at his best over middle distances on the dirt, where he's able to run effectively from off the pace.

"He's not that hard to get off the pace when he runs shorter, especially when there's a lot of other speed in the race," Landry said. "He's a great dirt horse. When you look at his numbers, going a mile and a sixteenth or a mile and an eighth is his strength."

Landry said he anticipates another solid showing from Niigon on Saturday.

"The horse is in good order, and I'm expecting him to run the way he did in the prep," Landry said. "I have a lot of confidence in him."

The Grade 3 event has lured just four others, including the consistent Sky Diamond and 11-time winner Daddy Cool.