08/09/2004 11:00PM

Husband versus wife in Smithwick

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It's a family affair in Thursday's $75,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase at Saratoga, in which trainer Sanna Hendriks will send out , who is trained by her husband, Ricky, in the first of this track's major summer races for jumpers.

Praise the Prince, now 9, has been a favorite of the jump set for four seasons, dating back to his stellar 2001 campaign, during which he won the Grade 2 Smithwick. He finished second in this race last year, but has been out of action since taking the New York Turf Writers' Handicap last Aug. 28.

"He came out of that race with a soft-tissue injury below his pastern," Sanna Hendriks said Tuesday morning outside the barn she shares with her husband. "He needed some time off. We gave him six months off. It was a long road to get here, but that seems to be the best way to get back from those injuries."

Praise the Prince tuned up for the 2 1/16-mile Smithwick with a victory in a 1 1/2-mile flat race during Saratoga's pre-meet open house July 25. He was ridden that day by Rob Massey, who takes over Thursday for regular rider Gus Brown. Brown is sidelined with a broken leg.

"He trained well up to the open house, and then he had a nice workout last Wednesday," Sanna Hendriks said. "I don't feel like he's lost anything, but we won't know until we put him to the test."

Tres Touche finished third in last year's Smithwick and second in the Turf Writers' Handicap, but he has the benefit of several races this spring. In May, he was a 20 3/4-length winner of the Grade 1 Iroquois Stakes in Nashville. But 11 days later, Tres Touche could only finish fourth as the favorite in the Don LeVine Memorial at Atlantic City.

"I got anxious and ran him back at Atlantic City," said Ricky Hendriks. "It had poured rain. I should have known better. The older he gets, the less he likes soft ground."

Tres Touche should get ideal conditions Thursday. It has been surprisingly dry and mild in Saratoga for several days.

Tres Touche was fifth in an open-house race July 25, but it is a non-betting event, and Ricky Hendriks said he used it primarily as a conditioning exercise. Still, he so fears his wife's horse that he could not be goaded into a friendly side wager with her.

"I've already convinced myself she's going to beat me," he said.

There are seven others entered in the Smithwick, which goes as the first race on a card that begins at 1 p.m.