09/24/2008 12:00AM

Jerkens in spoiler's role again

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ELMONT, N.Y. - The last time a horse had a chance to eclipse Cigar's North American earnings record in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens was there to prevent it from happening.

It was in 1998 when the Jerkens-trained Wagon Limit, a 34-1 shot, splashed his way to a 5 1/2-length victory in the slop in the then-$1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup while Skip Away, who was seeking to win his second straight Gold Cup and surpass Cigar's record, finished third at 1-5.

Saturday, circumstances will be eerily similar when Jerkens sends out the longshot Merchant Marine against Curlin, who, like Skip Away, is seeking his second straight Gold Cup victory while attempting to surpass Cigar's all-time earnings mark in the now $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. For good measure, it may rain again.

Jerkens will be seeking his fourth Gold Cup victory, all as an outsider. In 1973, Prove Out won at 9-2, dueling 1-5 Riva Ridge into a last-place finish. In 1975, Group Plan, at 6-1, knocked off 1-5 shot Wajima.

In 1998, Jerkens not only upset Skip Away, but he knocked off the multiple Grade 1 winner Gentlemen.

"They made a match race out of it and we picked them up at the end," Jerkens said, recalling the '98 Gold Cup. "I must have picked the phone up and put it down 15 times before I entered. The good thing was, we trained him like we were running, that's what helped. The purse was so big that we would have done well if he finished third or fourth."

Merchant Marine, a 4-year-old gelded son of Tiznow, has won 5 of 10 starts, but has not won a graded stakes race. He is, however, 5 for 6 at Belmont Park, where the long backstretch seems to suit his long stride, Jerkens said. Merchant Marine's lone loss at Belmont came in the Grade 1 Suburban at 1 1/4 miles where he was beaten six lengths by 40-1 shot Frost Giant.

"He got squeezed pretty good in that race," Jerkens said. "I'm just hoping he's a better horse now. That's what we're banking on.''

Jerkens said what impresses him most about Curlin is that he shows up every time.

"Even when you think he's not going to run quite as good, he still runs good,'' Jerkens said. "He's one of those horses that come around once in a while.''

The Gold Cup is expected to draw an eight-horse field. A couple of players, however, changed Wednesday when Frost Giant's connections said their horse would not run. Meanwhile, trainer Larry Jones said Stones River, fourth in the Pennsylvania Derby, would run in the Gold Cup.

Curlin had a paddock schooling session moved up to Wednesday due to the threat of heavy rains on Thursday.

Aside from lashing out with his back legs three times - kicking dirt in his stablemate J Be K's face as they walked around the walking ring - everything went smoothly.

Proudinsky could join Joe Hirsch field

If the heavy rains come as forecasted on Friday and soften up the turf course, trainer Bobby Frankel may run Proudinsky in the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. Just two weeks ago, Proudinsky ran second to Big Brown in the $500,000 Monmouth Stakes.

Frankel said running back on short rest doesn't concern him.

"He's acting good," Frankel said. "They do it all over, run horses back in two weeks, why can't I?''

Proudinksy has done his best work on less- than-firm turf. He won the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Handicap and the Mervyn Muniz Jr. Handicap at Fair Grounds on good and yielding ground, respectively. What Proudinsky hasn't done yet is run the 1 1/2 miles of the Joe Hirsch.

"If it's soft I think he'll be all right,'' Frankel said. "I'll enter and see what happens.''

A field as large as eight is possible for the Joe Hirsch. Expected to run are Sword Dancer winner Grand Couturier, Manhattan winner Dancing Forever, United Nations winner Presious Passion as well as Strike a Deal, Summer Patriot, Elusive Fort, and Jade's Revenge.

Mauralakana heads Flower Bowl

Mauralakana's improbable rise to the top of the filly and mare turf division has prompted her connections to keep her in training for a two-race fall campaign. The first of those two is Saturday's Grade 1, $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational, where Mauralakana figures a strong favorite in a five-horse field.

Mauralakana has won 5 of 6 starts this year, including the Sheepshead Bay and New York handicaps here in the summer and, most recently, the Beverly D. at Arlington on Aug. 9.

"The filly is doing well, she came back well, is training well, she likes Belmont Park, everything is good," trainer Christophe Clement said.

The potential for soft turf wouldn't hurt Mauralakana, but it could impact the only horse to beat her this year, Hostess. Trainer James Bond is pointing Hostess to the Flower Bowl, but doesn't want to run her on less-than-firm turf. Hostess defeated Mauralakana in the Grade 3 Orchid Handicap at Gulfstream.

Others planning to run include Communique, Dynaforce, and Jade Queen.

Plenty of TV options to see Gold Cup

If you have a television set, you will be hard-pressed to miss Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup.

HRTV will be on-site to provide in-depth coverage of the race and will also pick up the half-hour show that MSG Plus will be broadcasting from 5:30-6 p.m. Eastern. The MSG show will feature Jason Blewitt, Eric Donovan, and Jan Rushton and also feature some analysis from HRTV's Gary Stevens, who will be on-site along with Scott Hazleton.

It was announced on Wednesday that ESPN News will cut in to show the Gold Cup as well. The race can also be seen on TVG, which airs NYRA races daily.

Fund set up for Parker Buckley's children

The Jockeys' Guild announced Wednesday that a trust fund has been set up to benefit the children of Parker Buckley, the exercise rider for trainer Steve Asmussen who died last month at Saratoga.

The Brett & Cameron Buckley Education Trust has been founded to benefit Buckley's daughter, Brett Michelle, 16, and son, Cameron Reid, 14.

Donations can be made with a check payable to the Brett & Cameron Buckley Education Trust and sent to: Premier Community Bank, 32 NW Beal Parkway, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548.

NYRA reappoints 14 board members

The New York Racing Association's new board of directors looks a lot like its old board of directors.

NYRA named its 14 appointments to its board on Wednesday, 12 days after officially handing over the deeds to its three racetracks to the state of New York in a legislatively approved plan to extend its franchise for 25 years and help it emerge from bankruptcy. All 14 members served on the board prior to the approval of the franchise extension.

The board has 25 members, up from 23 prior to the approval. Aside from NYRA's 14 selections, Gov. David Paterson received seven appointments, with four of those seats reserved for representatives of specific interest groups, while the senate majority leader, Dean Skelos, and the speaker of the assembly, Sheldon Silver, received two each.

NYRA's 14 appointments are: Dennis Dammerman, C. Steven Duncker, Robert S. Evans, Lucy Young Hamilton, Charles E. Hayward, James P. Heffernan, Stuart S. Janney III, John W. Meriwether, Barry Ostrager, Ogden Mills Phipps, Michael L. Rankowitz, Richard T. Santulli, Peter G. Schiff, and Stuart Subotnick.

Three members of NYRA's previous board have also been tabbed by Gov. Paterson or legislative leaders: Chester Broman, Michael J. DelGiudice, and Leonard Riggio.

* You Go West Girl ($7.70), under Edgar Prado, got up in the final two jumps to catch Love Cove and win Wednesday's $78,250 Hey Baba Lulu Stakes by a nose. It was 1 1/2 lengths back to favored Rewrite in third.

* Wishful Tomcat ($12.40) split horses in deep stretch and outfinished favored Big Truck to win the $76,950 Floral Park Stakes by a head on Wednesday. It was a neck back to Be Bullish in third. Wishful Tomcat was the first of four winners on the card for jockey Ramon Dominguez.

* Jockey Jorge Chavez sustained a fractured right hand after he was thrown from his mount, Vorenus, prior to the start of Wednesday's fourth race. He will be out four to six weeks.

- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty