02/08/2007 12:00AM

Devilment may find himself on the lead

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NEW ORLEANS - The 800-pound gorilla stayed home, and nobody with a horse in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap is crying about it.

English Channel, one of the best turf horses in the country the last two years, had been expected to ship in from Florida to use the FG BC as a prep for a stakes race on the Dubai World Cup card, but he wasn't entered in the race.

"I mean, you never duck just one horse, and we were going to give it a try, but still," said Malcolm Pierce, who trains Devilment.

The 5-year-old Devilment's turf career began only this winter, but Devilment is unbeaten in two starts on the Fair Grounds grass course, having won a third-level allowance race on Nov. 25 and the Diliberto Memorial on Dec. 16. Pierce then backed off slightly, freshening Devilment for the FG BC and, if Devilment is up to the task, the $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap next month. Devilment took both turf races wire to wire, but Pierce said he's "not convinced he needs to be on the lead." Nevertheless, with an absence of early pace in the 1 1/8-mile FG BC, Devilment, who drew the outside post in 10-horse field, could find himself in front again.

Purim beat Fort Prado by a nose in the turf stakes here that Devilment skipped, the Jan. 13 Colonel Bradley, and both were entered in Saturday's race. Purim also was entered in the Mineshaft on dirt, and even with English Channel absent, Purim's trainer, Tom Proctor, was waiting as long as possible to commit to a race. "He's equally good on both surfaces, I think," Proctor said.

Purim battled back after Fort Prado passed him in midstretch of the Bradley, and could move forward off the race.

"He acts like he came out of that race really well, and with a race under his belt we're hoping he can improve," said trainer Jeff Trosclair.

Also worth considering is Transduction Gold, who makes his stakes debut for owner-trainer John Glenney. Transduction Gold was a visually impressive second-level turf allowance winner on this course Dec. 28.

Taylor's Special: Anybody's race

The Taylor's Special is about as wide open as you can get. The nine-horse field includes the winner of the 2005 renewal, Wrzeszcz, now 6, who will making only his third start since last March, and Chosen Chief, who finished third in the 2005 Taylor's Special.

Gigawatt, winner of a Grade 3 turf stakes at Calder last April, is trying to rebound after a dismal performance last month in the Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap. Only one other horse in the race, Gaff, has ever won a race on turf. Gaff is, in fact, the likely favorite off his strong performance winning the off-the-turf Bonapaw stakes in his last start.

"He's doing so well here I didn't want to move him," said trainer Steve Asmussen, "and he has won on the turf before."

Gaff is part of an uncoupled entry from the Asmussen barn, along with Santana Strings, who has never run on grass. The Patrick Mouton-trained Venomous, winner of the Colonel Power in his last start, ran fifth in his only turf start but was beaten less than three lengths and could win this with a good trip. Danieltown is winless in four turf starts but has good speed and could be arguing the early fractions along with Smoke Mountain, Chosen Chief, Gigawatt, and Gaff.

Wrzeszcz will be making his debut for the aggressive claiming stable of trainer Cody Autrey. The turf star was claimed from Tom Amoss for $50,000 in an off-the-turf event last time out. He won the race, his first victory since the 2005 Taylor's Special.

Storm Surge, trained by Dallas Stewart, was third in the 2005 Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. He will try the turf for the first time equipped with a new bridle designed to help his breathing.

- additional reporting by John Swenson