10/02/2008 11:00PM

Ground should suit Shakis, War Monger

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Shakis is expected to get his preferred firm turf in the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile, one of three Win and You're In races at Keeneland on Saturday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland turf course looks green and lush, belying the weeks of drought in the Bluegrass region. A new irrigation system installed when Keeneland underwent its massive renovation and Polytrack installation in 2006 has kept the grass from turning brown and crunchy, but the truth is that, underneath, there isn't much give to the ground.

This is very good news for Shakis and War Monger. How does each prefer his turf? The harder, the better. Both have thrown in a couple of less-than-firm clunkers this year, but when last they met, over a dry Saratoga course on Travers Day, they filled out the exacta in a deep field of 10 in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch, with Shakis rolling past War Monger in late stretch.

Now comes their most important clash to date, with all sorts of stuff on the line. Shakis and War Monger are among 13 older horses, including one also-eligible, set to run Saturday at Keeneland in the Shadwell Turf Mile, a critical race sporting a $600,000 purse, a Grade 1 ranking, and a Win and You're In berth to the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Shakis, an 8-year-old Irish-bred, was assigned post 1 with Rafael Bejarano riding, while War Monger, a 4-year-old Florida-bred, got post 6 with Kent Desormeaux. They are just two among a handful of viable contenders, with challenges also liable to come from a pair of dangerous-looking European invaders, Lord Admiral and Lovelace, as well as reliable stalwarts such as Karelian and Rahy's Attorney.

Bill Mott, the Hall of Fame trainer of War Monger, believes a little better luck might have helped War Monger fend off Shakis in the Baruch. War Monger, stalking from a wide spot throughout, seized command leaving the eighth pole before settling for second by three-quarters of a length.

"In the Baruch there was really not much pace, and he never really got any cover," said Mott, who has won the Shadwell twice, with Favorite Trick (1998) and Hap (2001). "Maybe the turn-back to the mile, with a faster pace, it will work out to our benefit."

Whether a different scenario will unfold Saturday is debatable. Thorn Song, fourth after leading most of the way in the 1 1/8-mile Baruch, is back, while Kingship is on a stretch-out from sprints, and a couple of others are capable of showing speed.

Kiaran McLaughlin, a three-time Shadwell winner with Dumaani (1995-96) and Altibr (2000), is the trainer of Shakis, a confirmed closer who rallied to be third behind victorious Purim in the Shadwell last year.

The 23rd running of the Shadwell anchors an extraordinary Saturday card at Keeneland. Four other stakes, including the Grade 1 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, are on tap, with none of the 10 races worth less than $50,000. In all, Saturday purses at Keeneland total more than $2 million. A $150,000 guaranteed pick six will be offered on races 5 through 10 and includes all five stakes races.

The Shadwell and Breeders' Futurity are part of the two-hour ESPN broadcast that originates from Woodbine starting at 4 p.m. Eastern.