07/25/2008 11:00PM

Howard brings another late-bloomer

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Last summer, trainer Neil Howard brought a late-developing 3-year-old to Saratoga and nearly pulled the shocker of the meet when Grasshopper came within a half-length of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in the Travers.

This year, Howard has again brought a late-developing 3-year-old to Saratoga, and with no monster like Street Sense expected for the $1 million Travers on Aug. 23, perhaps Howard can do himself one better.

Howard will start Mambo in Seattle in the $90,000 Henry Walton Stakes on Sunday at Saratoga. Though the more lucrative Jim Dandy is also carded for Sunday at the same 1 1/8-mile distance, the Henry Walton is restricted to non-graded stakes winners this year. The ultra-conservative Howard prefers the easier spot, just as he did last year when he ran Grasshopper in an allowance race the day after the Jim Dandy.

"We think he's a nice colt, we've had the luxury of being able to go one step at a time, so we want to keep doing that," said Howard, who trains Mambo in Seattle for William Farish and Mrs. William S. Kilroy.

Mambo in Seattle's story is eerily similar to that of Grasshopper. Each finished second in his debut sprinting at Keeneland and won a two-turn maiden race at Churchill in his second start. Each got hurt at Fair Grounds during the winter and was forced off the Triple Crown trail.

Mambo in Seattle had a chip removed from an ankle during the winter and has come back to race four times, winning his last two. The second-level allowance he won at Churchill on June 14 was particular solid, as he had a wide trip throughout and was game in the stretch, though he was late switching his leads.

"His last race was very good," Howard said. "He was a little bit wide - I think he had an outside post - he was shortening back to a mile and a sixteenth, and I think he's better the further he goes, and he beat older horses.

"He's trained very, very well since," Howard added. "He's really developing. He's a beautiful colt."

The Henry Walton appears to be full of late-developing 3-year-olds. You and I Forever, a son of Grade 1 winners A.P Indy and You, has won his last two for trainer Bill Mott. Trainer Nick Zito sends out the uncoupled entry of Amped and Chris Got Even, both of whom have won their last two starts.

Tizbig is coming off a second-place finish in the Dwyer for Allen Jerkens. Cosmic and Pascal complete the field.

Jones targets several graded stakes

Trainer Larry Jones was at Saratoga on Friday morning where he was seen galloping Solar Flare, his entrant in Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Handicap. Jones, based at Delaware Park, plans to be in action several times throughout this meet, including Monday's Grade 2 Amsterdam with Kodiak Kowboy, next Saturday's Grade 1 Test with Sweet Hope, and the Grade 1 Alabama on Aug. 16 with Proud Spell.

In the Amsterdam, Kodiak Kowboy will be making his first start for Jones. The horse had previously been trained by Steve Asmussen, but Asmussen and the owners of Vinery Stables split up and Kodiak Kowboy was transferred to Jones.

Kodiak Kowboy has not run since finishing second to Macho Again in the Derby Trial. Last year at 2, Kodiak Kowboy won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special over this track.

"He should like the track just fine," Jones said. "Hopefully, I don't have to use that as an excuse."

In Sweet Hope, Jones may have an intriguing runner for the Test for 3-year-old fillies. After she began her career in England where she won once from five starts, owner Martin Wainright moved her to California-based trainer Steve Sherman. Sweet Hope won a first-level allowance race at Bay Meadows before finishing fourth in the Railbird Stakes over Cushion Track at Hollywood. After that race, she was sent to Jones.

Though the owner wanted to run in the $200,000 Jostle Stakes at Philadelphia Park on June 14, Jones felt the filly need more time. On June 23, Sweet Hope won the Beautiful Day Stakes at Delaware Park, running six furlongs in 1:09.47 and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 109.

"I don't know if it's from shipping east to west, or a deal where we knew she had been on steroids and I had to wait for her to clear the steroid deal for Delaware and Pennsylvania, but this mare was kind of lifeless," said Jones.

Jones said he convinced the owner to run Sweet Hope in the Beautiful Day instead of the Jostle, telling him, "I don't think you want to take her up to Philadelphia for $200,000 and get her head jerked."

Said Jones: "Just about the time that race came up, you could tell she was just kind of finding herself and getting back into it. I said there's a little stakes here if you want to try her, we can at least give her a shot, and Lord did she run."

Jones said Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell was "a little tired" after her Delaware Oaks win, but she is on target for the Alabama. She had finished second (placed third) in the Mother Goose just two weeks before she ran in the Delaware Oaks.

"She had two races in two weeks, and you could tell she kind of emptied the tank after the second race, but we have plenty of time to refill it now," Jones said. "She has actually come out of it really well."

Desert Key sharp in drill

Desert Key, prepping for Monday's $150,000 Amsterdam, blew out three furlongs in 33.81 seconds Friday morning over Saratoga's main track. The move came after the renovation break over a track labeled muddy but one that had dried out considerably from Thursday.

Though he worked rapidly, Desert Key was not asked for much during the move by his exercise rider.

"Fast horses work fast, let's face it," trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "I guess the track was flattened pretty good; it had to be fast. He looks like he's okay. I'd prefer he didn't work that fast, but there's nothing I can do about it now."

Desert Key won a first-level allowance race at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day, running six furlongs in 1:08.80.

In addition to Desert Key and Kodiak Kowboy, those pointing to the 6 1/2-furlong Amsterdam are Devereux, Eaton's Gift, Fidelio, and True Quality.

* Jockey Jeffrey Sanchez, who won Friday's fourth race, dropped an appeal of a careless riding suspension and will begin serving a 10-day penalty Sunday. Sanchez, who is going to Puerto Rico to be married, is eligible to ride again Aug. 6.