06/11/2009 11:00PM

Derby also-ran switches to turf

Barbara D. Livingston
Advice, whose good synthetic form includes a win in the Coolmore Lexington, will make his grass debut in Saturday's Jefferson Cup.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Advice had barely cooled out after finishing 13th in the May 2 Kentucky Derby when his connections said they planned to switch the colt to turf the next time he raced.

That plan will become a reality Saturday when Advice makes his turf debut from post 1 with Garrett Gomez back aboard in the Grade 2, $150,000 Jefferson Cup, one of four supporting stakes on the Stephen Foster card at Churchill Downs.

Advice came to sudden prominence in the 3-year-old ranks with a 15-1 upset in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes under Gomez on the Keeneland Polytrack two weeks before the Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher and the braintrust at owner WinStar Farm then went against their initial inclination, and forged ahead to the Derby, where Advice, ridden by Rene Douglas, finished 21 lengths behind the victorious Mine That Bird.

Since then, Advice "has been in steady training," according to Michael McCarthy, the locally based assistant to Pletcher. "He's had a handful of nice works on the turf and seems to handle it fine. He handled the synthetics at Arlington, Santa Anita, and Keeneland all very well, so obviously we're hoping that parlays over to the turf. The Jefferson Cup has been on our radar all along."

Advice is listed as a 5-2 morning-line choice over six other 3-year-olds in the 34th Jefferson Cup, which goes at 1 1/8 miles on the turf. His primary opposition appears to be Florentino, a speedy shipper trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, and No Inflation and El Crespo, the two-three finishers in the Arlington Classic three weeks ago.

The Jefferson Cup was inaugurated in 1977 as a sprint for 2-year-olds before being switched to its present form in 1988. It is carded Saturday as the seventh of 11 races and is the first of five consecutive stakes to end the day.

Northern Dancer: Warrior's Reward solid

Warrior's Reward ran so well at Gulfstream Park in his first two career starts that Ian Wilkes had little choice but to start thinking Derby. He whipped a promising field of maidens in his Jan. 31 debut, then finished a creditable second to Dunkirk in a key allowance race Feb. 19.

But then Warrior's Reward failed a critical test by running eighth in the March 14 Tampa Bay Derby, a race that Wilkes now calls "maybe a blessing in disguise."

Getting off the Derby trail "probably is what was best for the horse, at least in the long run," said Wilkes. "I'm sure I would've kept pushing him toward the Derby if he had run better. As it is, we've got a horse that's really coming into himself now, and we can make a push toward the second half of the year."

That push starts Saturday in the Grade 3, $100,000 Northern Dancer Stakes (race 8), a 1 1/16-mile race for which Warrior's Reward has been pegged as the 6-5 morning-line favorite. The colt comes off a sensational effort on the May 1 Kentucky Oaks undercard, when he closed with a flourish and drew off from Munnings to win an allowance race by 2 1/4 lengths, earning a 113 Beyer Speed Figure. Munnings returned last Saturday as a highly impressive winner of the Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

Warrior's Reward, with Calvin Borel to ride, will break from post 3 when he faces seven other 3-year-olds in the 12th running of the Northern Dancer. His main threats could be the two opponents drawn to his inside, Omniscient and Successful Dan.

None of the Northern Dancer starters has won more than twice, and only Parade Clown, winner of the WEBN Stakes in February at Turfway Park, has won a stakes.

Regret: Hard to separate 11 3-year-old fillies

Churchill Downs usually saves one of its biggest and most competitive fields for the nightcap, largely in an effort to increase the potential for a large payoff or carryover in its super high five wager, in which bettors try to select the top five finishers in order.

Even on Stephen Foster Day, with stakes on the final five races, that is again the case. The day's final race, the Grade 3, $150,000 Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on turf, drew a field of 11, and the race appears so competitive that track oddsmaker Mike Battaglia made Prytania a tepid 7-2 choice on the morning line.

"It's gonna be a darn good horse race," said Phil Sims, trainer of Bourbonette winner Hot Cha Cha, an 8-1 shot on the morning line. "All the horses look about equal."

Three of the Regret starters, Prytania, Hot Cha Cha, and Excelente, last started in the May 23 American 1000 Guineas at Arlington. The three fillies finished within a length of each other, with Excelente running second and Prytania and Hot Cha Cha, a close fourth and fifth.

Darrin Miller, who trains Excelente, said his filly caught the firm ground she wants at Arlington. She could scratch if Saturday's course is wet, he said.

Miller also trains front-running Oculuna, whose speed complements the late-running style of Excelente.

Bonnie and Tommy Hamilton of Silverton Hill Farm own both fillies. Miguel Mena rides Excelente, while Alan Garcia has the mount on Oculuna.

- additional reporting by Byron King

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