06/03/2004 11:00PM

Favorites unproven on grass


Any turf race where the top two choices on the morning line are unproven on the surface should be a prime betting opportunity for value-oriented players.

Although both Paddington and Irish Laddie have been keeping classy company on dirt, each is an unknown commodity on grass, and they appear vulnerable at probable short odds in Sunday's $75,000 Nick Shuk Memorial, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds at Delaware Park.

Paddington, listed at 5-2 on the track's line, was good enough as a 2-year-old last fall to finish second in the Grade 3 Nashua, but could only manage a lackluster fourth in his 2004 debut in the nine-furlong Federico Tesio at Pimlico. Renowned grass trainer Michael Dickinson has prepped Paddington for this spot with a series of sharp workouts over the turf, but Dickinson rarely has a horse make his turf debut in a stakes. He's only 1 for 2 with that move the past five years.

Irish Laddie, the 7-2 second choice, was third in the Tesio behind Water Cannon. He was beaten only 3 1/2 lengths by Belmont Stakes starter Royal Assault in the Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard. In his lone previous try on turf, Irish Laddie got a poor 46 Beyer Speed Figure, and his below-average Tomlinson turf rating of 252 indicates he's not well-bred for the grass.

Three runners with upset potential are King's Coronation, Amador, and Honor Prayer.

King's Coronation, listed at12-1, is 0 for 2 on grass, but last time out he was within two lengths of the leaders at the stretch call, despite having to steady, in a stakes won by Artie Schiller, a highly regarded 3-year-old who is 4 for 5 lifetime on turf. That race was the first start for King's Coronation in more than six months, so he should be tighter for the Shuk.

Amador, a 6-1 shot who must overcome post 11, failed to clear his first allowance condition in two starts at Keeneland, but now gets a key equipment change, adding blinkers. Trainer Michael Matz is 3 for 10 adding blinkers to his turf runners the past three years.

Honor Prayer, 10-1 in the track program, showed a nice closing kick when he won his turf debut sprinting at Fair Grounds in March. He returns to what could be his preferred surface and stretches out from six furlongs for trainer Mike Pino, who shows 20 percent success with the sprint-to-route angle.