01/27/2007 12:00AM

Gun Salute back after layoff of nearly a year


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Gun Salute will make his first start since finishing third as the betting choice in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Breeders' Cup Stakes last February when he tops a strong field of eight turf routers in Tuesday's headliner at Tampa Bay Downs.

Cornelio Velasquez, the current leading rider at Gulfstream Park, has been named by trainer Bill Mott to ride Gun Salute in Tuesday's race, an optional claiming event at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. A six-time winner on the turf and earner of $715,814, Gun Salute carries 116 pounds under the allowance conditions of the race, which figures to serve as a prep for the $150,000 Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup at 1 1/16 miles on the turf Feb. 24.

Several stakes winners are ready to challenge Gun Salute, including Therecomesatiger, winner of the Sea O'Erin Stakes at Arlington Park last summer and a five-time winner on the grass.

Jose Ferrer will handle Therecomesatiger in the horse's first start since November. He is trained by Tom Proctor and will carry 118.

Gun Salute made just a single start in 2006, vying for the lead to the stretch of the Gulfstream BC before weakening to third. In 2005 he won four stakes, including the Grade 1 Secretariat and Grade 2 American Derby, both at Arlington Park.

Therecomesatiger had a light campaign as well in 2006, starting just six times. He has been training in dazzling fashion for his return to action and deserves a long look.

Cosmic Kris also comes of a layoff, having last raced in July. He finished only a neck behind Gun Salute in the 2005 Hawthorne Derby and has four turf wins to his credit.

Others to consider include Stay Close, who looked sharp winning his 2007 debut against allowance rivals, and Cherokee Prince, front-running winner of the Labor Day Stakes at Mountaineer before going to the sidelines last September.