12/17/2006 12:00AM

Devil's Preacher captures a sloppy McKnight

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MIAMI - Devil's Preacher had never run on dirt or raced 1 1/2 miles prior to starting in Saturday's $200,000 at Calder. As things turned out, it didn't matter.

Devil's Preacher took advantage of a scratch-reduced field of only six horses and a race that absolutely collapsed in the stretch to run down Bob's Proud Moment for a 1 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2 McKnight. Ramazutti, the 3-2 favorite, chased the pace for much of the way and finished a tiring third.

The McKnight was the main event on Saturday's Grand Slam II program at Calder, which was dampened by two days of steady rain that forced both the McKnight and its filly counterpart, the La Prevoyante, to be switched to the sloppy main track.

The change in surface led to the scratches of seven of the original 13 entrants for the McKnight, including Revved Up, the 122-pound highweight. That played right into the hands of Devil's Preacher, a first-time gelding, who raced within easy striking distance under jockey Rafael Bejarano before overtaking a staggering Bob's Proud Moment in late stretch. The final quarter-mile split for the 1 1/2-mile McKnight was a trotter-like 30.15 seconds and the final time was 2:38.28.

"I would characterize this win as an early Christmas present," said George Weaver, who trains Devil's Preacher for the R.A. Hill Stable. "We would rather have run him on the turf, but for $200,000 it looked like a good spot. He's got a dirt pedigree and we were just happy to be part of this race today."

Weaver said that Devil's Preacher ($13.40), who was purchased for $475,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale, has been a handful to train throughout his career, and that he finally decided to geld the well-bred son of Pulpit after he finished second in an entry-level allowance race at Aqueduct on Nov. 5.

"He's been difficult from the beginning, both to train and at the gate," said Weaver. "It was a hard thing to do to geld him with his expensive pedigree, but we knew it was something that had to be done to take him to another level."