02/05/2004 12:00AM

It's Irish Warrior's turf


PHOENIX - The $150,000 purse of Saturday's Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup Handicap - the marquee race of the meet - has attracted some big fish from other ponds, including Irish Warrior, the fourth-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

A 1 1/16-mile turf race, the Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup is one of three races on a card that also includes the $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby and the $75,000 Arizona Oaks.

Irish Warrior, trained by Wally Dollase, showed himself last year to be among the best turf horses in the world. He began his ascent in last year's Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup, finishing second to Century City, who went on to finish third in the BC Mile.

Irish Warrior then won a money-won allowance race over graded stakes horses Decarchy and Native Desert. On July 4, Irish Warrior ran third to top-class horses Candy Ride and Special Ring in the Grade 2 American Handicap at Hollywood, and then finished third in the Grade 1 Eddie Read at Del Mar. He won the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap in August and was third in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch at Del Mar, which was won by Storming Home.

In the BC Mile, Irish Warrior closed hard for fourth. In his last start, he came back with a second, behind Grade 1 winner Redattore, in the Grade 2 Citation at Hollywood in November.

Irish Warrior holds just about every significant handicapping edge in the Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup. As the 123-pound highweight, he must concede between 1 to 14 pounds to his eight foes. It appears that only the weight or the layoff can hold him back.

Irish Warrior's main rival is Freefourinternet (122 pounds), who has been something of a globetrotter. In the past year, Freefourinternet has raced at Fair Grounds, Hollywood, Churchill Downs, Woodbine, Belmont, Santa Anita, and Sam Houston. Trained by Joan Scott, Freefourinternet comes off a second to Sir Cherokee in the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston. That race was on dirt, but Freefourinternet is probably more comfortable on turf.

The high point of Freefourinternet's career came last Oct. 4, when he won the Grade 2 Kelso on the turf at Belmont.

The best local hope may be Black Bart, who gets in at 113 pounds. Black Bart is in the best form of his life and has won two straight on this turf course.

Black Bart, trained by Troy Bainum, has never met opposition as strong as Irish Warrior or Freefourinternet. Black Bart posted a dazzling work here Feb. 2, when he went six furlongs in a bullet 1:10.80, an indication that he has retained his form.

There are three other Southern California shippers of note in the race: the speedy Rock N Rosh, the stretch-running Arsen, and Superiority.