09/20/2002 12:00AM

Federal Highway tries something new

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Trainer Brent Sumja is excited about Federal Highway's turf debut in Sunday's $60,000-added Half Moon Bay Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

Sumja, who purchased Federal Highway in Florida this spring, had considered running the colt on turf, but wasn't sure it was the right move.

"I never thought of running him on turf when we were in the process of purchasing him," Sumja said. "I was told a long time ago: 'Don't ever buy a horse to make him do something else.' I've always followed that advice."

Federal Highway drew post 8 in the field of 11, headed by highweight Mutinyonthebounty.

Sumja has developed horses such as Giant Gentleman, who finished second in the Grade 1 Malibu and Grade 1 Strub over the winter, and he believes Federal Highway has the talent to become the best horse he's ever trained. He also thinks the colt will take to the turf.

"I just think he'll run on grass because he's athletic," Sumja said.

Federal Highway hasn't started since a narrow victory in the James Lyttle Handicap on Aug. 2 at Santa Rosa. Sumja said the race took something out of the colt and forced him to cancel plans to take Federal Highway to Del Mar.

But Sumja saw something in the Lyttle that made him even more convinced that Federal Highway would be a good turf runner.

"I know he's not by Nijinsky or bred by Juddmonte Farms, but the move he made between the three-eighths and quarter pole was amazing," Sumja said. "That's what I look for to put a horse on grass: someone who can sit right off the pace and really punch the final quarter or three-eighths."

Although Federal Highway's works are slow on paper, Sumja is pleased with them. Sumja and assistant Aggie Anderson have concentrated on having the colt slow down early and finish strong.

That's what he did on Aug. 26 at Bay Meadows when he worked five furlongs in 1:04.10. According to Sumja, Anderson clocked Federal Highway in 21.40 for the final quarter-mile of that work.

"Never in my years at the racetrack have I seen one do that at the end of a five-furlong work," Sumja said.

If Federal Highway handles the turf, he will run next in the $100,000 Bay Meadows Derby on Nov. 3. If he doesn't, he will run in Santa Anita's Strub Series.

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