10/14/2003 11:00PM

False Promises a keeper on turf

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Six months ago, False Promises was starting to live up to his name. A $37,000 2-year-old purchase in the spring of 2002, and a winner last December in his second start ever, False Promises began 2003 by losing four races by a combined 92 lengths.

The promise he had shown was vanishing, but trainer Tony Granitz had one more hope. "I told the owner [David Maracich] all along that this horse would be better going long on grass," Granitz said. "He had a sister that liked the grass, and he trained like he would be better on it, too."

Granitz's assessment would prove to be shrewd, but not for several months - False Promises lost his first five turf races. But on Saturday he has a legitimate chance in the $250,000 Hawthorne Derby.

The five grass losses gave False Promises nine starts during his season. He had been training steadily since January but wasn't wearing down, and the more Granitz ran him the more False Promises learned what was going on. An overzealous front-runner at the start of his turf career, False Promises began to relax. In July and August, False Promises started settling behind horses and running well, and on Aug. 28 at Arlington, he finally won an allowance race.

Winning seemed to put False Promises over the hump. He came back in a second-level allowance Sept. 28 at Hawthorne and turned in a remarkable performance. Last of 11 horses at the second call, False Promises came into the stretch about eight paths off the rail and flew home to win by a length, earning a spot in Saturday's derby.

"The horse learned to settle, and he ran a monster race last time," Granitz said. "He worked really sharp Monday. He's all set."

But with his new deep-closing tactics, False Promises will need luck to stay out of trouble Saturday in what is expected to be a 12-horse field. The favorites are Remind, who comes in from trainer Bill Mott's Kentucky string, and Lismore Knight, who ships in from New York for Todd Pletcher. Also expected to run are Akatsakat, Beau Classic, Blue Blood Boot, Buzzle Ways, Foufa's Warrior, Gentlemen J J, Megoman, Scottago, and Sir Walter Rahy. Working on dirt, Gentlemen J J ran a half-mile in 47.40 seconds here Wednesday.

Wiggins to make another start

Granitz also reported that Wiggins came out of his fifth-place finish in the Oct. 4 Indiana Derby in good condition, and would start once more this season. A winner in three straight stakes before his recent loss, Wiggins will run either in an Illinois-bred stakes race here Nov. 8 or the Oklahoma Derby on Nov. 16 at Remington Park.

In the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park, Wiggins found himself fanned four wide on a racetrack that favored inside speed.

"He was third at the top of the stretch, but he was wide the whole way and he couldn't sustain it," Granitz said. "It was a tough one, but he was only beaten about four lengths."

Cactus Ridge will work late

Cactus Ridge's final work for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile will take place under unusual circumstances. Cactus Ridge is scheduled to work Saturday at about 12:30 p.m., shortly before the first race on Hawthorne's card.

The late work stands in stark contrast to Cactus Ridge's breeze last Saturday, when he worked in near darkness at about 6 a.m. Cactus Ridge's regular rider, Eddie Martin, will work Cactus Ridge on Saturday.

Mediocre field on tap

There were 102 horses entered for Friday's 10-race program here, but not a lot of them are packing quality. In fact, the highest-class race of the afternoon is the seventh - a first-level, nine-furlong turf allowance for fillies and mares.

Good luck separating the 12 horses in this field. Eliminating non-contenders is difficult, finding the favorite nearly impossible. Gravellona T keeps coming close facing similar opposition, but will she improve on her three straight place finishes? Dania Bay also figures to take some play, but she has struggled to clear the condition, also.

More interesting are Sunset Kisses, who may make a clear lead despite breaking from the outside post, and Chequered Love, who could break through after two straight troubled trips.