08/24/2008 12:00AM

Kodiak Kowboy all set, Jones says


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Like any good handicapper, Larry Jones is well aware of the bounce theory and how it may affect the performance of a horse coming off a very hard, career-topping performance. But unlike other handicappers, Jones has the advantage of also training and riding the horse in question, in this case Kodiak Kowboy, who he is confident will be at his best in Saturday's $250,000 King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga.

The seven-furlong King's Bishop drew 11 3-year-olds. The field also includes likely favorite J Be K, the speedy Desert Key, graded stakes winners Visionaire, Golden Spikes, Salute the Sarge, and Lantana Mob, and the rapidly improving I'm So Lucky.

Jones not only knows something about his horses, he also knows something about winning the King's Bishop, having captured the Grade 1 dash a year ago with Hard Spun. To defend that title, Jones will need Kodiak Kowboy to repeat his hard-fought head victory over Desert Key in the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes four weeks earlier. The performance earned Kodiak Kowboy a career-best 108 Beyer Speed Figure in his first start since being transferred to Jones's barn earlier this summer.

"Anytime a horse comes off a hard race like that, as a handicapper, you'd be surprised if he didn't regress or bounce from that type of effort," said Jones, who has named Gabriel Saez to ride.. "But with me training and riding and knowing him like I do, I'm the one who will be the most surprised if he bounces on Saturday."

The Amsterdam gave Kodiak Kowboy his second win in as many starts over the local strip. He also accounted for the Grade 2 Saratoga Special as a 2-year-old when under the tutelage of Steve Asmussen.

"He couldn't be doing any better since the Amsterdam," said Jones. "And if he brings that same type of effort to the table on Saturday, he's going to be tough. It sure would be great to come back and get this thing again."

Asmussen will attempt to defeat his former pupil with J Be K, who has won his five starts at distances ranging from 5 1/2 furlongs to seven-eighths of a mile by a combined 27 lengths. A son of Silver Deputy, J Be K has accounted for the Grade 2 Woody Stephens and Grade 3 Bay Shore and Jersey Shore stakes at 3, with his lone loss around one turn coming at the hands of Harlem Rocker in the one-mile Withers.

J Be K has always done his best when on or with the pace, although he figures to face a stiff early challenge for the lead from Desert Key and perhaps the outsiders Nautical Storm and Gentleman James.

"We're very pleased with how he's doing and as always concerned about everything," said Asmussen. "I just hope he gets away cleanly and gets a nice, smooth trip. This is a very important opportunity for him, his biggest to date, being a Grade 1 race."

Desert Key, who contested a rapid pace and fought on bravely before dropping a head decision in the Amsterdam, will likely have his hand forced early after drawing the rail for the King's Bishop.

A hotly contested pace would not only help the cause of Kodiak Kowboy, but also several others in the lineup, including I'm So Lucky, Golden Spikes, and Visionaire.

I'm So Lucky has won his last three starts in decisive fashion, including a second-level allowance race against older horses earlier in the meet.

"The confidence of jockey Robby Albarado has given us confidence in this race," said I'm So Lucky's trainer, John Ward. "Robby says he's just cruising when stalking and uncanny the way he accelerates."

Golden Spikes has won a pair of six-furlong stakes at Calder, including the Grade 2 Carry Back, since turning back in distance earlier this summer off a series of longer races. Trainer Marty Wolfson, who has not lost a Grade 1 race at Saratoga in three tries, said he believes Golden Spikes will be even more effective at distances of seven furlongs to a mile.