08/04/2008 11:00PM

Good spot for Danak comeback


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - In what must be something of a racing rarity, the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap holds the distinction of producing the current 1 1/16-mile record holders on both Saratoga turf courses.

Back in 1991, when the race was called the Daryl's Joy, none other than Fourstardave himself won it for the second straight year and posted a time of 1:38.91 on the Mellon - then known as the "main" - that still stands.

As part of his championship campaign, Leroidesanimaux won the Fourstardave's 2005 renewal and set the inner-course mark of 1:39.92.

In the 14 years that the Fourstardave has been run on grass since the beyer Speed Figures were published (it was rained off in 1992 and 2002), the Beyer par is 107. Unlike many dirt races - Saturday's Grade 1 Test Stakes, for instance, where winners have posted widely varying figures anywhere from 88 to 110 - those 14 winners all fell into a narrow range of 104-109, which reflects that turf routers tend to run more consistent figures and don't usually exhibit the wild form-cycle swings more commonly seen among dirt sprinters.

The top figure of 109 has been run four times, most recently by Leroidesanimaux, but someone would have to step up big-time to approach that level Sunday. None of the 11 entrants have matched the 107 par from 140 combined starts on turf, and five have never put up a triple-digit figure.

In a sign of the times, the majority of the field will be coming off layoffs: Red Giant hasn't run since the Jamaica last October; War Monger makes his first start since the Maker's Mark in April; Danak last ran in Dubai in February; Stalingrad has been away since prompting the pace in the Manhattan almost two months ago; Inca King took June and July off after winning the ungraded Opening Verse Stakes; and longshot Elusive Fort has been absent since running sixth in the Mervin Muniz Handicap five months ago.

This may turn out to be a good spot for Danak, who was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths in last year's Arlington Million, despite lacking room on the far turn behind a very slow pace. The 10 furlongs of the Million also may have been a little farther than Danak wanted to go, considering 4 of his 5 wins in Ireland came at seven furlongs to a mile, and the lone exception was a 1 1/8-mile allowance race against only two rivals.

Danak will be making his first start for Kiaran McLaughlin, who has won this race twice and also saddled layoff turf-route winner Encinas on Thursday. Perhaps most importantly, Danak gets Lasix for the first time Sunday.

Favorites faltering in turf sprints

Hopefully, the scattered thunderstorms in the forecast for Sunday will bypass the track. During the opening week, 13 races were rained off the turf - more than double the entire meet total of six last year.

If it seems like every other turf race has been a 5 1/2-furlong sprint on the Mellon, it's actually only been one of every three. Seven of the first 21 turf races were sprints, and favorites were blanked, though four winners were second or third choice. Favorites won half of the 14 turf routes, however.

Wide open jockey and trainer races

The trainer and jockey races are developing into free-for-alls. Through the first eight days, three-time Spa titlist John Velazquez had a 10-9 lead on defending champ Cornelio Velasquez, with Eibar Coa (7) and Edgar Prado (6) well within striking range and capable of getting hot at any time.

Meanwhile, no one's doing more with less than Channing Hill, whose four winners - The Truffle Man ($43), Critical Cathy ($11), Unflagging ($62.50), and Over Forli ($41.20) - have averaged a $39.40 payoff.

Steve Asmussen topped the trainer standings with five winners, four of which were juvenile second-time starters, including Jardin ($26.40) in a slowly-run Schuylerville that received a 67 Beyer.

Right behind with four wins were Gary Contessa, Todd Pletcher, whose three 2-year-old winners match his total from Saratoga 2007; and Rick Dutrow.

Jonathan Sheppard won back-to-back Saratoga meet titles in 1984-85. Though he probably isn't going to do that again, he's off to a heck of a good start: Forever Together ($20) went last-to-first in the Diana, Come Close ($33.80) won a turf sprint off a November layoff, and The Price of Love ($15.80) won the Jonathan Kiser Stakes over the jumps Thursday.

The top average win payoff of $37.10 belongs to David Duggan, a former exercise rider for Neil Drysdale and an assistant trainer for John Kimmel and Eoin Harty before going out on his own three years ago.

Duggan sent out turf upsetters Lyke a Hurricane ($26.60) and Cagey Girl ($47.60), and his take on the hot start was refreshing.

"The horses are doing well at the right time," he explained. "It's not rocket science. It's all about getting them in the right spots."