07/22/2004 11:00PM

Devils Disciple looks to build off breakthrough


MIAMI - Trainer Joe Waunsch held his breath until entries were closed and drawn for Sunday's card, not sure if the $40,000 Dear Murray Stakes would go for his 2-year-old sensation Devils Disciple. Waunsch was eventually able to let out a sigh of relief when the race filled with a field of seven, which included Devils Disciple's two most immediate victims from his one-sided victory earlier this month in the Criterium Stakes.

The face of the local 2-year-old division changed abruptly July 3, when Devils Disciple won the Criterium by nine lengths over Magic Speed, with Cherokee Chase third and the previously undefeated B B Best finishing fourth as the odds-on favorite. Devils Disciple earned a 97 Beyer for that performance, vaulting him not only to the top of his class on the home front, but quickly garnering him attention from bloodstock agents who represent clients throughout the country.

"We've received numerous inquiries about buying him ever since that last race," said Waunsch, who trains Devils Disciple for John Somers. "But for now he's still here. I was a little surprised and, of course, very pleased the race filled for Sunday, because there really isn't any place else to run him around here for a while since he's not eligible for the Florida Stallion Stakes."

To say Devils Disciple seemingly has his six rivals over a barrel in the Dear Murray would be an understatement. Not only is Devils Disciple's 97 Beyer from the Criterium 25 points higher than his nearest competitor, the 76 and 77 Beyer Figures he earned in his previous two starts are both better than anything posted by any of his six opponents Sunday.

Waunsch has been around long enough not to expect Devils Disciple to repeat his last performance, but he says he does expect a good race in the Dear Murray.

"He's going into this race just as good as his last," said Waunsch.

Waunsch said he will take a conservative route with Devils Disciple this summer and will resist the temptation to run in races like the Grade 2 Sanford or Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga.

"He's a gelding, so winning graded races is not going to really do him any good down the road," said Waunsch. "Right now I'm thinking about the Cradle Stakes at River Downs [Sept. 6], which has a $200,000 purse, and then if all goes well maybe the Lane's End at Keeneland, which this year is worth $500,000 and may not come up too tough, because it will be run the same day as the Grade 1 Champagne in New York."

Built Up heads Groomstick entrants

Entries have already been drawn for Saturday's $75,000 Groomstick Handicap, the 6 1/2-furlong dash that has lured a field of 11, including Built Up and Tour of the Cat. Built Up comes off a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Smile Sprint Handicap. Tour of the Cat has started twice, winning once since returning from his eighth-place finish in the Dubai Golden Shaheen.

The racing office is closed throughout the five dark days this week and will reopen Saturday.