01/07/2010 1:00AM

Custom for Carlos set to take on the big boys

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Custom for Carlos ran some big races last year, earning some big speed figures, opening some eyes, getting some ink.

But that was as a 3-year-old, when he didn't necessarily have to run against top competition. Eddie Kenneally, who trains Custom for Carlos for Homewrecker Racing and Avalon Farm, withheld the colt from more demanding assignments, sensing greater things were possible in 2010.

Now 2010 is here, and Custom for Carlos is ready for whatever is thrown his way. He had better be. When he runs six furlongs Saturday in the Grade 3, $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap at Gulfstream Park, it will be against Munnings, one of the most feared sprinters in the land. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Munnings also will be making his first start as a 4-year-old and will go off as a solid favorite.

"Todd's horses are hard to beat anywhere, but it seems like they're particularly tough at Gulfstream," Kenneally said earlier this week from his main winter base at the Palm Meadows training center near Boynton Beach. "Munnings, he's a very legitimate horse. He's the class of the race, for sure."

Munnings has been a class act since he won a Saratoga maiden race in his career debut in July 2008. Off that race, he ran third in the Grade 1 Hopeful, then second in the Grade 1 Champagne. At 3, he won back-to-back Grade 2 sprints, the Woody Stephens and Tom Fool, before ending his season by running third in the slop in three straight Grade 1 events: the Haskell, King's Bishop, and Vosburgh.

Regrouped by Pletcher since the Vosburgh, run Oct. 3, Munnings has been training well at Palm Meadows, ending with a five-furlong breeze Sunday in a bullet 1:00.60.

Likewise, Custom for Carlos has been keeping the Palm Meadows clockers on their toes, ending a series of sharp workouts Monday by breezing a half-mile in a bullet 48 seconds.

"He's a pretty laid-back horse, but he also can be a pretty good work horse," said Kenneally, a 43-year-old native of Ireland. "He's just gotten good, and he likes the track here at Palm Meadows. He's worked well several times over this track since we brought him here around the first of December. He did that last work quite easily, even though it was a bullet."

Custom for Carlos, a Kentucky-bred by More Than Ready, started drawing attention when he drubbed fellow 3-year-olds last summer at Monmouth Park in the Grade 3 Jersey Shore, winning off by 6 1/4 lengths and earning a 106 Beyer Speed Figure. He confirmed that form in the fall when he earned a 109 Beyer in a nose defeat in the $250,000 Gallant Bob at Philadelphia Park, then won an overnight stakes at Churchill Downs by 3 3/4 lengths.

Leading up to the Churchill race, Kenneally said he had mulled his options - including the Breeders' Cup Sprint over the Pro-Ride synthetic at Santa Anita - before taking a more conservative route. Ideally, long-term, he said he would like to see Custom for Carlos earn his way into the BC Sprint at Churchill in November.

"Obviously, we're going to take everything one race at a time with him," said Kenneally. "Going up against a horse like Munnings right off the bat, that should be a pretty good barometer for us right there."

Three years ago at Gulfstream, Kenneally sent out Kelly's Landing to win the Mr. Prospector. Two races later, Kelly's Landing captured the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen, accounting for easily the richest victory during a 27-race career in which he earned more than $1.85 million.

Kenneally said it is too early to compare Custom for Carlos to a horse who accomplished as much as Kelly's Landing did. As to whether he is looking for an invitation to run Custom for Carlos in the Golden Shaheen, which will be run over the new synthetic track at Meydan on March 27, Kenneally said he believes Custom for Carlos "might be a little better on dirt," but the results of the Mr. Prospector should play heavily into the next move or two.

"Let's see how he runs," said Kenneally. "This is a very good test for him. He's got to show me he can run with these other top horses before we look any further down the road with him."

Besides Custom for Carlos for the Mr. Prospector, Kenneally also will have two other starters in Grade 3 stakes on the Saturday card: My Jen, a 3-year-old Fusaichi Pegasus filly, goes in the Old Hat, and Warbling, a 4-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song, runs in the Sugar Swirl. Both fillies are unbeaten in limited starts.

"My Jen is a hard-knocking filly, and Warbling overcame quite a bit to win her last start," said Kenneally. "They're both looking at the toughest races so far in their careers, but I really like the way they're both training."

Primarily using a circuit of Kentucky in the spring and fall, Saratoga in the summer, and Florida in the winter, Kenneally has enjoyed quite a bit of success in recent years. He came to the United States as an exercise rider in 1987 before going on to work for four years, starting in 1993, as the private trainer for Jack Kent Cooke. He then went public, but for his first 12 years of training, his horses did not win more than 25 races in a year.

Then, in 2005, when Kelly's Landing was a 4-year-old, his career began surging. Largely on the strength of stakes horses such as Bushfire, Keep the Peace, and Saratoga Sinner, he set career highs in 2008 (59 wins, $2.1 million in earnings) and again in 2009 (71 wins, $2.8 million in earnings).

Kenneally said he would like a fast start to 2010 by making an impact Saturday at Gulfstream.

"The horses have really been doing well since we got down here to Florida," he said. "We should be all set."