03/27/2008 12:00AM

Eddie C. sharpest in field of five


Usually, it takes a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure to win the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Handicap. Although the average Beyer for seven of the last eight runnings of the 1 1/8-mile stakes has been 103, it looks like something closer to the 89 that Reckless Ways earned for his first-place finish in 2006 will be good enough to capture Saturday's edition of the $80,000 stakes for older horses at Laurel Park.

Among the six entrants, only five are likely to run in this race, which the first leg of the season's final Magna 5. The New York-based Divine Park was cross-entered and expected to run in a high-priced optional claiming race at Aquequct on Friday.

That leaves a weak lineup, where the sharpest horse appears to be Eddie C., a 6-year-old gelding who has won two starts in a row locally and four of his last five.

As recently as November, Eddie C. was running for a $15,000 tag against nonwinners-of-two-lifetime at Aqueduct. Based at the Bowie Training Center with trainer Chris Grove, Eddie C. has looked like a new horse since he tried the main track at Laurel, crushing first-level allowance runners by more than nine lengths and overcoming a bad start to beat $25,000 optional claimers five weeks ago. His back-to-back 92 Beyers are 14 points higher than he ever managed in 13 prior starts.

Kaufy Big Shot and Saratoga Lulaby finished necks apart going 1o1/16 miles three weeks ago. The 5-year-old Kaufy Big Shot will be making his stakes debut in his 21st career start. Saratoga Lulaby was far back in the Native Dancer in early January and fourth of six in an overnight stakes at Aqueduct last fall.

Forty Crowns has occasionally shown flashes of brilliance, winning the 1 1/8-mile Northern Dancer in 2006 with a 102 Beyer and winning his grass debut in the Maryland Million Turf last October. His three subsequent starts, however, haven't been nearly as good.

Handicappers may want to excuse Forty Crowns's most recent race, in which he failed to show his customary early speed when he was caught tight going into the first turn of the same race that Kaufy Big Shot and Saratoga Lulaby exit.