04/29/2004 12:00AM

With Honor in War, the value is still there

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Honor in War didn't sneak under the radar. He was off it altogether when rallying to a 1 1/4-length victory in the 2003 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at 24-1. On Saturday, will get much more respect but still figures to offer betting value when he faces 10 other turf specialists in the $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.

Honor in War paid $50.60 after stepping out of the allowance ranks and upsetting Grade 1 competition in last year's Woodford, which traditionally highlights the Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs. He has kept formidable company ever since that victory, but still may be somewhat overlooked off a pair of fourth-place finishes to start his 2004 campaign.

"He's doing great, and I thought that Keeneland race set him up real nice for this one," said trainer Paul McGee referring to the Maker's Mark Mile on April 9. "He was eight wide coming into the stretch and closed real well. If anything, he's coming into this race a little better than last year, and is sitting on a big effort."

Under the allowance conditions of the Woodford, Honor in War will carry 121 pounds, two fewer than likely favorites Perfect Soul, Sweet Return, and Kicken Kris.

won the Maker's Mark in his 2004 debut. He also defeated Honor in War by three-quarters of a length when the pair met last fall under equal weights in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. Perfect Soul has made his last four starts at a mile, although he has won twice at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Woodford Reserve.

might be the one to catch as he stretches out to nine furlongs following a come-from-behind half-length victory in Santa Anita's Grade 2 Frank Kilroe Handicap at a mile. The victory was the third straight for the California-based Sweet Return, who had previously scored wire-to-wire wins in the Grade 2 San Marcos and Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

The Woodford distance could be a problem for Kicken Kris, who appears best at 1 1/4 miles and beyond. Kicken Kris ran third behind Hard Buck and Balto Star at 1 3/8 miles in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap to open his year.

"I was pleased with the race, which was a very good start to what will hopefully be a big year," said trainer Michael Matz. "I wish this race was a little longer than a mile and one-eighth, but he's acting well and the timing is very good because it leads in nicely to his next start in the Manhattan Handicap."

Burning Sun is another who demands respect, despite a fourth-place finish last time out in his U.S. stakes debut at Fair Grounds. "He was changing leads all the way and didn't really handle the surface in his last," said trainer Bobby Frankel.