07/24/2003 11:00PM

It's Irish Warrior's time to step up

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PHOENIX - They're not yet mistaking him for Good Journey, but the progress of Irish Warrior the past few months must have trainer Wally Dollase smiling as he takes a swing at the big boys in Sunday's Grade 1 Eddie Read at Del Mar.

Good Journey's campaigns under Dollase included wins in graded stakes and concluded with a fine third in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile. The road has been a little bumpier for Irish Warrior, but the son of Irish River is now 5 for 17, with 6 seconds. His only two stakes tries resulted in a neck loss in the Turf Paradise BC Handicap Feb. 1 to talented European import Century City, and most recently a third behind unbeaten South American import Candy Ride in the Grade 2 American Handicap. Maybe it's simply a case of maturing, but Irish Warrior has stamped himself a legitimate force in the middle-distance turf ranks after being just a solid allowance horse earlier in his career.

Also slated to go in the 1 1/8-mile Eddie Read is Redattore, likely the best middle-distance turf horse in the country, who is coming off wins in the Grade 2 Kilroe Mile and Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile. Trained by Richard Mandella, Redattore also is coming off an ailment that kept him from a dirt engagement in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup and a matchup with Candy Ride in the Grade 2 American.

The Julio Canani-trained Special Ring is another top turf horse who is expected to run in the Eddie Read. He looked like a BC Mile prospect last summer, but an injury kept him out for almost 10 months. When he came back, he came back running, finishing a close second to Redattore in the Shoemaker and to Candy Ride in the American. He has seemingly come back as good as ever.

In the American, Special Ring went right to the front and was dogged every step of the way by Candy Ride, until he could take no more. It's possible the same thing could happen here, though with Redattore doing the hounding this time. And it's possible nine furlongs is pushing it a bit for Special Ring.

In the American, Irish Warrior was fourth of five early, and because of the slow pace he was at a disadvantage. Let fast horses like Special Ring and Candy Ride go in 24.04 seconds, 47.92, and 1:11.02 and you're not going to catch them, especially when they run a fourth quarter-mile in 23.21 to finish the mile in 1:34.23.

The Del Mar turf course isn't as friendly to speed as the Hollywood course, and perhaps Dollase will give instructions not to let Irish Warrior fall too far back this time.

With Irish Warrior on the upgrade and the two favorites looking vulnerable, maybe Irish Warrior can make 'em pay at about 4-1.

Nonsuch Bay's turn?

You don't have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to realize that Sightseek will be a heavy favorite in Sunday's Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga. After all, the Bobby Frankel trainee has been nothing short of dazzling, coming off smashing Grade 1 wins in the Humana Distaff and Ogden Phipps. Those races both were around one turn, which seems to be her best game.

The Go for Wand is at 1 1/8 miles and the Phipps was at 1 1/16 miles, and this time she must negotiate two turns. When she tried that game in California twice this past winter, she could only finish second.

Of course, she may well be a better filly now than she was then, but with Sightseek at 1-2 or so maybe you have cause to look around. Sightseek will run into three other Grade 1 stakes winners Sunday, including Miss Linda and Forest Secrets.

But the most interesting potential spoiler may be Nonsuch Bay. Trained by Frank Alexander, Nonsuch Bay hasn't won a graded stakes since her win nearly 14 months ago in the Grade 1 Mother Goose, but she won an allowance race and the Banshee Breeze at Gulfstream this winter, and last time out finished third to You in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs. Alexander said she had a legitimate excuse in that race.

"She got off bad," he said. "I don't think she was [totally] in the gate when they sprang the latch, and she was way far out of it and closed good."

Before that, Nonsuch Bay finished fifth to Frankel monster Wild Spirit in the Grade 2 Shuvee at Belmont. "I think that time she had too fast a work before the race and it took a little bit out of her," Alexander said.

Nonsuch Bay gets eight pounds from Sightseek on Sunday, and with Sightseek maybe not at her best going two turns, Nonsuch Bay has more than a little appeal at about 9-2.