05/25/2008 11:00PM

Independent George prepping in Sussex


As a 4-year-old last season, Independent George was ambitiously spotted in a pair of Grade 1 turf stakes, the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland and the Cititation Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Independent George will be back on the grass for his first start since his off-the-board finishes in those two top-shelf stakes last fall in Wednesday's $75,000 Sussex Stakes at Delaware Park.

Although the Sussex is considered the local prep for the $200,000 Caesar Rodney on July 13, trainer Graham Motion is using Wednesday's 1 1/16-mile race to get Independent George tuned up for the $175,000 Presque Isle Mile, which will be contested on Tapeta, on July 4.

Independent George, 3 for 11 on turf, won last year's inaugural Presque Isle Mile, his only start on a synthetic surface and his lone stakes victory.

"This race, on Wednesday, will give him about five weeks until the Presque Isle Mile, which timing-wise is very good, and his breakthrough race last year was obviously that race," said Motion.

Motion is optimistic Independent George might be good enough to take another shot at Grade 1 competition on turf later this season.

"We have always felt he had that kind of ability, but he is just a very nervous horse," Motion said. "So it has always been a question of him handling it mentally and not necessarily talent-wise. He has always had plenty of ability, but mentally he has always been slightly fragile."

Motion's turf horses are usually ready to fire fresh. He's 5 for 9 at Delaware with turf runners returning from layoffs of more than 180 days.

The Bill Mott-trained millionaire Silver Tree is the logical horse to beat in the Sussex, which drew 14, including three entered for the main track only.

Winner of the Grade 2 Fourstardave at Saratoga last season and the Grade 3 Fort Marcy Handicap at Aqueduct last time out, the 8-year-old Silver Tree captured the 2007 Caesar Rodney in his only previous trip to Delaware. Overall, Mott is 4 for 9 the last five years with turf horses he has shipped into Delaware.

The field also includes the Godolphin Racing-owned Formal Decree, who was second in a Group 1 in Germany last season and will be making his North American debut.