03/17/2010 11:00PM

Kelly Leak returns in turf sprint

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ARCADIA, Calif. - He finished first in a stakes on a synthetic track and was stakes-placed on turf as a 2-year-old. At 3, he won the Sunland Park Derby on a dirt track.

Kelly Leak has handled a variety of surfaces in his 11-race career. The next test occurs Friday when Kelly Leak starts in a third-level optional $80,000 claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita.

"I think with his turn of foot, he'll love coming down the hill," trainer Mike Machowsky said of Kelly Leak. "I think he'll be a good turf miler. He can run on anything. I think we'll try him on the turf for the first few races this year."

Kelly Leak was best known at 2 for winning the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, only to be disqualified and placed fourth for causing interference. His win in the Sunland Park Derby came at the expense of Mine That Bird, who finished fourth and later won the Kentucky Derby.

Kelly Leak battled foot issues that limited him to three starts after the Sunland Park race. His best finish last summer and fall was a third in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park. In his last start of 2009, Kelly Leak finished sixth in the Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park.

"When he got back, he got sick on me," Machowsky said. "I think he bled in the race. I gave him time at the farm. He just needed a little break."

Friday's race will be Kelly Leak's first start on turf since a win in a one-mile allowance race at Santa Anita in February 2009.

He faces an excellent turf sprinter in Mr Gruff, who has not started since winning the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap here last April. Mr Gruff has won 3 of his last 4 starts, all on the hillside turf course.

Trainer Ron Ellis gave Mr Gruff a break last spring, but when the gelding returned to training he was found to have a sore back. Treatment from a chiropractor worked, but kept Mr Gruff from taking a chance in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint on the hillside turf course last fall.

Ellis said there is no concern about Mr Gruff's fitness for Friday.

"He's been ready to run for about three weeks," he said.