12/18/2007 1:00AM

Devil's Preacher plummets

EmailMIAMI - What a difference a year has made for Devil's Preacher.

At this time last December, Devil's Preacher became a Grade 2 stakes winner when he benefitted from a sloppy track and a relatively weak field to capture Calder's prestigious, 1 1/2-mile W.L. McKnight Handicap.

On Thursday, Devil's Preacher returns to the scene of his finest hour with a $16,000 claiming price on his head. He is one of 15 horses entered for the featured ninth race, an optional claiming race scheduled for 1 1/16 miles on the turf with a purse of $24,500.

Devil's Preacher, with Edgar Prado listed to ride for trainer George Weaver, will need some help to get into Thursday's race because he's one of three horses on the also-eligible list.

Devil's Preacher, a 4-year-old son of Pulpit, has made just four starts since he rallied to a 1 1/2-length win over Bob's Proud Moment in the 2006 McKnight. He was sidelined more than seven months after opening his 2007 campaign with an 11th-place finish in Gulfstream Park's Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Handicap, and gained his only victory of the season on Oct. 5 at Belmont Park when he prevailed by three-quarters of a length facing conditioned claiming opposition under a $35,000 price tag.

Devil's Preacher isn't the only key contender stuck on the also-eligible list. Joining him on the outside looking in, at least until scratch time, is Bello Capote, who will likely be favored if he does start. A 3-year-old son of Capote, Bello Capote came back from an eight-month hiatus to finish second, beaten a neck by Imroyallymecked, under similar conditions when making his Calder debut on Nov. 23.

Should neither Devil's Preacher nor Bello Capote draw in, the Christophe Clement-trained Blue Rider or recent maiden winner Justin Rules are likely the ones to beat.

Blue Rider returned from an 8 1/2-month layoff to finish a wide-running fourth against stronger entry-level allowance types at Belmont in September. Justin Rules came back from an even longer vacation to register a two-length maiden victory over the local turf course on Nov. 17.

King Cassia, a 7-year-old whose resume includes six victories over his home course, will be among the early leaders under jockey Eibar Coa and could prove dangerous if allowed to relax long enough in front.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin sends out the regally bred Amwaal, a son of Seeking the Gold, with blinkers for the first time in quest of his first victory in the United States.