08/04/2009 12:00AM

Ferocious Fires faces test in Morrissey


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Ferocious Fires proved a popular four-length winner of the 2008 John Morrissey Stakes, and trainer Anthony Dutrow probably had every right to believe his Grade 1-placed New York-bred might have a similarly easy time defending his title when launching his 2009 campaign on Thursday. That is, until he picked up the overnight and realized Ferocious Fires wouldn't be the only Grade 1-caliber runner in the field.

Ferocious Fires will have his hands full in the John Morrissey with the Bruce Levine-trained Driven by Success, who in two starts this season has finished third in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap and third after disputing a hot pace in the Grade 2 Tom Fool.

Ferocious Fires will be making his first start since finishing third behind Fabulous Strike under 131 pounds in the Fall Highweight Handicap more than eight months ago. That performance capped a season in which the son of Lite the Fuse won a pair of stakes, including the John Morrissey, and also finished third in the Grade 1 Forego.

"He runs well fresh, likes Saratoga, and won this race easily last year," Dutrow said. "But he didn't catch a Driven By Success last summer. Bruce's [Levine] horse is a very good horse, and it's going to be a tough race for my horse coming off such a long layoff."

Ferocious Fires had done most of his preparation for his 2009 unveiling at Aqueduct before shipping locally to work five furlongs in 1:01 over the main track here Sunday. Ferocious Fires will carry high weight of 122 pounds under the allowance conditions of the race, with regular rider Cornelio Velasquez aboard.

Driven by Success will return to statebred company for the first time since registering a 3 1/4-length, second-level optional claiming victory over the Aqueduct inner track in early February. The victory capped a three-race win streak for the gelded son of Precise End, who has posted Beyer Speed Figures of 105 or higher on three separate occasions. Like Ferocious Fires, he too is fond of the Saratoga strip where he's been perfect in two previous starts.

Driven by Success is at his best when on or near the pace and he'll probably have little choice but to go early after breaking from the rail under Ramon Dominguez. That could put him in early conflict with the speedy Dr. W, who set a contested pace before finishing fourth when making his stakes debut in the seven-furlong Thepromonroe at Belmont on July 8.