08/22/2007 11:00PM

Grasshopper taking shot in Travers


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - While no one could quarrel with their decision, it is noteworthy that owner Will Farish and trainer Neil Howard have elected to have Grasshopper make his stakes debut against Street Sense in Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

Grasshopper certainly earned his shot in the Travers when he won a second-level allowance race here by six lengths on July 30. That performance, coupled with the lack of depth to the field beyond Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, is what prompted Farish and Howard, conservative by nature, to run.

"He's a horse we always thought of potentially as a top 3-year-old," Farish said Thursday morning. "He had a setback early, so we couldn't make the spring races. We were so impressed with his race; he did more than we expected of him. Off that and the way the race came up, it was worth taking a shot.

"It's asking a lot of him," Farish added. "We would normally take it one step at a time, but we're taking four steps here."

Handicappers may remember that in 2003, Farish and Howard finished second to Funny Cide in the Preakness with 20-1 shot Midway Road.

Grasshopper, a son of Dixie Union, won his maiden going 1 1/16 miles in his second start last November at Churchill Downs. Later in the year, he shipped to New Orleans, where he fractured a tibia during a workout. Off the Triple Crown trail, Grasshopper returned to the races winning a six-furlong allowance race at Churchill the day after the Belmont Stakes was run.

After finishing third in his next start, Grasshopper rolled to a six-length victory in a second-level allowance score here, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 104. He was being pointed to the Pennsylvania Derby before the Travers field came up a tad light - beyond Street Sense.

"We're looking at every little factor except Street Sense," Howard said. "Our approach to the race is probably the same as everybody else's, you hope you run well.

"Any horse can have a bad day. Street Sense can, too. He's probably not going to have it on Saturday, but it can happen. Were just hoping our horse runs well. If you finished a real good second or third in the Travers, there are worse things."

Jerkens delays Vitruvius return

The much-anticipated return of Centennial Farms's undefeated 3-year-old Vitruvius will have to await another day after trainer Jimmy Jerkens scratched him from Thursday's sixth race. The second-level optional claiming event was carded at 1 1/8 miles.

"I was scared of the distance," Jerkens explained late Thursday morning. "It just seemed too hard to do off the long layoff, especially around here. He wasn't as willing in his last work as I thought he might be. He went a little fast around the turn, but didn't finish the way I felt he still should."

Vitruvius has not started since he earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure winning an entry-level allowance race by nearly four lengths going a mile at Aqueduct on April 11.

Jerkens said Vitruvius would probably work again Monday or Tuesday. Vitruvius missed significant training time due to a skin disease he contracted shortly after his last race.

"I'll get him light on his feet again and then go for a seven-furlong race here before the end of the meet," Jerkens said. "Going seven furlongs will probably set him up a little better for when we get back to Belmont Park, where everything is around one turn."

Fan escapes serious injury

A racing fan visiting the backstretch Thursday morning was lucky not to have been seriously injured when a loose horse leaped the railing at the six-furlong gap at the main track during training hours and jumped over the man.

Dean Higgins, a 61-year-old Saratoga resident, was standing at the railings between the two gaps when a horse trained by Rick Violette got loose and hurdled the fence. Higgins, whose brother Bill is an assistant to Allen Jerkens, dove to the ground to avoid the horse, who hurdled him and appeared to graze his back. Higgins was removed from the track on a stretcher and taken to Saratoga Hospital for precautionary X-rays. Less than two hours later, he was back on the backside, a little sore, but feeling fortunate.

"Lucky is the word I would use," Higgins said. "Everything is fine. I saw him coming and I dove to the ground."

Aside from a few scrapes and cuts, the horse was fine, Violette said.

Makderah, Rosinka target Glens Falls

Makderah, third as the favorite in the Grade 1 Diana Stakes, will make her next start in the Grade 3, $100,000 Glens Falls Handicap here on closing day, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin is targeting the Gradeo1, $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont on Sept. 29 but didn't want to go two months without a race. He chose the 1 3/8-mile Glens Falls over the 1 1/16-mile Ballston Spa, which was run Thursday.

"We're just looking to go a little further with her," McLaughlin said. "There's not the perfect prep. The Flower Bowl is a perfect prep for the Breeders' Cup, but the Flower Bowl is also a very important race."

Also targeting the Glen Falls is Rosinka, who posted a neck decision over Royal Highness in her last start, Delaware Park's 1 3/8-mile R. G. Dick Breeders' Cup Handicap.

The Dick was the third victory in a row for Rosinka and it looms even larger after Royal Highness returned to capture Arlington Park's Grade 1 Beverly D.

"I thought about bringing her back in the Ballston Spa but decided I didn't want to shorten her up to a mile and one-sixteenth after she just won going a mile and three-eighths," trainer Graham Motion explained.

Dream Rush gets back to work

Dream Rush, winner of the Grade 1 Test Stakes here earlier in the session, worked an easy half-mile from the three-furlong pole around to the mile pole in 50.14 seconds on Thursday.

"Just a little maintenance move," trainer Rick Violette said. "She's still a month away from her next race."

Dream Rush is being pointed for the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Stakes at Belmont on Sept. 22.

Violette said he will be among the more interested spectators in Sunday's seven-furlong Ballerina Stakes. The Grade 1 Ballerina features a field of 10 fillies and mares, including the undefeated Burmilla, Test runner-up Boca Grande, and two-time Grade 1 winner Pussycat Doll.

* Bruce "Chip" Miller Jr. became the eighth jockey to win 200 North American steeplechase races when he guided Planets Alligned ($17) to victory in Thursday's $70,000 Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes. Miller is the son of trainer Bruce and the brother of Blythe Miller, who retired with 202 career victories.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch