01/14/2005 12:00AM

Hennig finds ideal spot for Eddington

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Having good horses is the easiest way for a trainer to win races, but knowing how to read a condition book can also be a big asset. Mark Hennig will put both those factors to use when he sends out the multiple Grade 1-placed Eddington in a field of high-priced optional claiming and allowance rivals in Sunday's $37,000 feature at Gulfstream Park.

Despite an impressive resume that includes third-place finishes in the Travers, Preakness, and Wood Memorial, and a recent victory in the Grade 3 Calder Derby, Eddington is still eligible for this third-level allowance condition. With that in mind, Hennig bided his time when the meet began, passing a couple of stakes opportunities to await what appears to be a perfect spot to get another victory on Eddington's record.

has not started since winning his grass debut in the Calder Derby on Oct. 23. The victory was the first for Eddington since he trounced entry-level allowance company here in late February.

"This race will be a prep for something, but just what I'm not sure right now," said Hennig, who trains Eddington for the Willmott Stables Inc. "We'll decide what we want to do, which direction to go, and what race to go in after Sunday. Our options include the Strub, the Donn, or putting him back on grass again. Right now he's doing well, it's time to get him started, and this appears to be a good spot that has come up at the right time. It's a long year, and it makes sense to start him out with a race that, hopefully, he can build some more confidence on."

The stretch-running Eddington will need some help up front with the pace and should get some realistic fractions to run at with Granite Head and Drink a Toast in the lineup. Granite Head is rarely outrun for the lead but will be taking a steep hike in class after being claimed for $40,000 out of his 2004 finale by trainer John Zimmerman on Nov. 7. Drink a Toast will van over from Calder where he finished a tiring third under similar third-level optional claiming and allowance conditions on Dec. 22.

Should Eddington fail to fire his best shot, Conservation and Confirmed might have the best chances of springing an upset.

actually takes a slight drop in class after finishing third and earning a 98 Beyer Speed Figure at Calder on Dec. 27.

has finished first or second in each of his last five starts while consistently running Beyer Figures in the low to mid-90's.