04/13/2004 12:00AM

Experience edge goes to Prince Arch


LEXINGTON, Ky. - It was meant as a forerunner to the major 3-year-old races on dirt, but as trainers began requiring more and more time between starts for their horses, the Forerunner at Keeneland became an anachronism. Then Keeneland built a grass course in 1986, not only salvaging the Forerunner, but giving it a whole new meaning.

Now firmly established as a useful prep for richer 3-year-old turf races, the $100,000 Forerunner will be run again Thursday with a quality field that justifies its uninterrupted existence. Horses such as Prince Arch, Victory Light, and Big Booster are likely to draw the strongest support in a field of nine, and the winner may emerge as an early-season leader in the niche division of 3-year-old turfers.

Prince Arch, trained by Ken McPeek, comes well prepped for the 1 1/8-mile Forerunner, having already run four times on turf this year, ending with back-to-back runner-up finishes in stakes at Gulfstream Park. Two starts back, Prince Arch finished fast to wind up just 1 3/4 lengths behind the explosive Kitten's Joy in the Grade 3 Palm Beach. Prince Arch then affirmed that effort with another nice rally behind Shakespeare in the Caltech.

Victory Light is far less experienced on grass, but his lone turf attempt was a good one - a narrow defeat last fall in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine. After two dirt races to begin his 3-year-old campaign, Victory Light now returns to the turf, and with trainer Elliott Walden and jockey Pat Day in his corner, Victory Light will deserve to take his fair share of action Thursday.

Big Booster, trained by John Kimmel, disappointed in back-to-back graded dirt stakes to end his 2-year-old season, perhaps hastening his move to the turf. The transition certainly was a smooth one, and Big Booster showed flash in rallying from far back to win a first-level allowance at Gulfstream Park in his turf debut Feb. 29.

Yet another interesting starter is War Trace, who also won his grass debut. Trained by Jim Toner, War Trace is by Storm Cat out of the champion mare Memories of Silver, who posted one of her career highlights at Keeneland when she won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup in 1996 for Toner.

Completing the field are Bachelor Blues, Bogangles, Brass Hat, Lost in Transit, and Mr. J.T.L.

Two allowance races accompany the Forerunner on a nine-race card that begins at 1:15 p.m.