02/21/2007 1:00AM

English Channel in far below usual level

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Lauren J. Pomeroy/Horsephotos
Multiple Grade 1 winner English Channel will run Thursday for a $57,500 purse.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Todd Pletcher dumped a bit of a bombshell on nine of his peers when he slipped Eclipse Award finalist English Channel into Thursday's $57,500 allowance feature, carded at a 1 1/8 miles on the grass.

English Channel was one of the premier turf horses in the United States in 2006, winning three Gradeo1 races and finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He began the campaign on the Gulfstream turf, defeating eventual Eclipse Award champion Miesque's Approval in the Canadian Turf Handicap.

Pletcher originally planned on bringing English Channel back to defend his title in the Canadian Turf, but he had to pass the race because the son of Smart Strike lost some training time due to an upper respiratory infection. Plan B became the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap the following weekend, but that, too, went by the wayside.

"I just wasn't completely satisfied he was ready to run in either race," Pletcher said when asked about the delay in English Channel's return. "He's nominated this weekend for the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup, but I really didn't want to start him back going a mile and three-eighths."

Pletcher's first major goal this year for English Channel will be one of the two rich turf races on the undercard for the Dubai World Cup on Marcho31. He's yet to decide, however, whether English Channel will run in the Dubai Duty Free at just over a mile or the Dubai Sheema Classic carded at 1 1/2 miles.

"Hopefully this race will help clarify where we'll ultimately decide to place him in Dubai," said Pletcher.

Because Thursday's feature will be run under allowance conditions, English Channel will compete at equal weight with seven of his rivals and actually is in at four pounds less than the 122-pound highweight, Croton Road.

Two other former Grade 1 winners, Request for Parole and Gun Salute, are also in the lineup.

Request for Parole finished a troubled ninth behind English Channel's stablemate Ramazutti in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Handicap on Jan. 28 and is winless since defeating allowance foes here last March.

Gun Salute, winner of the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at 3, finished third in the 2006 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup. He has started just once since, checking home eighth under allowance conditions at Tampa on Jan. 30.

The speedy Mending Fences figures to have things his way on the front end, and could be English Channel's chief foe while turning back in distance off a sixth-place finish in the 1 3/8-mile Mac Diarmida.