06/24/2010 12:00AM

Desert Party returns in LeVine


Since shipping back to North America from Dubai in April, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Godolphin Stable has yet to run any of its stakes performers from a year ago. That will change Saturday when Desert Party faces six rivals in the $200,000 Donald LeVine Memorial Handicap at Philadelphia Park.

The LeVine, run at seven furlongs, drew a field of seven, including the multiple stakes winner Riley Tucker and the locally based Cherokee Country.

Desert Party, who won the Grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga in 2008, has not run in North America since finishing 14th in last year's Kentucky Derby. He came out of that race needing surgery to remove an ankle chip and was off the remainder of the year. In the winter, he raced twice in Dubai, winning the $200,000 Mahab Al Shimaal on March 4 before finishing 11th of 14 in the Godolphin Mile. Both of those races were run over the Tapeta synthetic surface at Meydan.

Last year, Desert Party won two stakes in Dubai at Nad al Sheba, which utilized a dirt surface.

"Those were his two most impressive races," said Rick Mettee, Godolphin's New York-based assistant. "He generally runs well when he's fresh. He's training very well. I'm not crazy shipping into heat."

Mettee also is not crazy about Desert Party having to carry high weight of 122 pounds. David Cohen rides Desert Party from post 2.

The horse to beat in the Don LeVine is Riley Tucker, who comes off a good-looking two-length victory in the Grade 3 Aristides at Churchill Downs on May 29. Riley Tucker is trained by Steve Asmussen, who has 8 wins and 2 seconds from 10 starts at Philadelphia Park this year.

Most of Riley Tucker's success has come at six furlongs. Riley Tucker is 1 for 4 at seven furlongs. Asmussen is more concerned about this being Riley Tucker's third race in 46 days and coming back off a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 110.

"I think the hurdle is how good he's been running and how often," Asmussen said. "He's easy on himself between races, very good to be around, but we're bringing him back over there fairly quickly again."

Stewart Elliott rides Riley Tucker from post 6.

Cherokee Country, who is 7 for 11 at Philadelphia Park, makes his first start since winning the Valley Forge there on Dec. 8. He is winless in two starts at seven furlongs.

Cristiano, Strasbourg, Uncle Gidge, and Mannington complete the field.