01/06/2009 12:00AM

Distance check for promising 3-year-olds

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - First-level allowance events for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles probably won't grab anyone's attention throughout much of the season. During the opening months of the Gulfstream Park meet, though, few races will receive more scrutiny than these intriguing and always-popular races for horses who have not won two races.

Thursday's card at Gulfstream will serve up not one but two such delicacies, giving 17 3-year-olds the opportunity to take what could be their next step on the Kentucky Derby trail. Each race offers a purse of $42,000.

The opening division, which goes as the sixth race, features Remsen runner-up Atomic Rain, the undefeated pair of Free Country and Pressure Point, Calder stakes winner Stately Character, as well as Sincero and Stormalory.

Atomic Rain should be favored off his second-place finish behind the undefeated Old Fashioned in the Grade 2 Remsen and by virtue of the fact he is the only member of the field with a race over the distance.

Trainer Kelly Breen said: "I had been pointing for a seven-furlong allowance race that did not fill, so we really weren't ready to go a mile and one-eighth in the Remsen, which makes his performance that day all the more impressive. Having that race under our belt will hopefully give us an advantage over some of the other top contenders in here who are coming off sprints."

Breen was specifically referring to Free Country and Pressure Point, both of whom were impressive in debut wins at Churchill Downs. Free Country's victory came at six furlongs and Pressure Point's at seven.

Free Country is one of two horses trainer Ken McPeek has in the race, along with Bounissimo. He will also send out an uncoupled pair in the second division, the eighth race.

Key contenders in the eighth race are Idol Maker, a distant fourth in the Remsen, McPeek's unbeaten Danger to Society, and Bruce N Autumn.

Idol Maker rallied to a 1 1/2-length maiden win going a mile in his debut, but faded late and finished six lengths behind Atomic Rain in the Remsen.

Danger to Society also won at first asking at a mile, rallying from mid-pack to a 1 1/2-length triumph at Churchill Downs.

Bruce N Autumn won his maiden around two turns over the Churchill turf course in his 2-year-old finale and has trained well since shipping to Florida last month.